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Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships provide a number of benefits for students, the most obvious and immediate of which is financial. Graduate assistantships consist of a waiver of tuition and some fees and a cash stipend paid during awarded semesters. Few graduate assistantships are available for the summer, although regular assistantships may include a tuition and fee waiver for classes taken during the summer.

Graduate assistantships also provide interpersonal benefits. Assistants work more closely with faculty than other graduate students. The university provides assistants with an office where they can congregate. Graduate assistants often compose the most active cohort in graduate student associations. Finally, graduate assistants work closely with faculty establishing both personal and professional bonds that may last for years.

Recipients of graduate assistantships are expected to;

  • perform between 13 and 20 hours per week
  • carry an academic load of nine hours, or three courses, per semester
  • remain in academic good standing
  • accept no additional employment at the university

Assuming the recipient meets his/her assistantship obligations and maintains good academic standing, assistantships can be awarded for a maximum of four semesters, the duration of the program.

Types of Assistantships

Assistantships support faculty in their teaching and research. Students holding teaching assistantships proctor and score exams in undergraduate classes, keep class attendance records, tutor undergraduate students, locate library materials for faculty, and many other tasks deemed relevant to the support of undergraduate teaching. In turn, faculty are expected to view assigned tasks as furthering the sociological education and skills of the assistant. Therefore, these tasks entail the graduate student practicing basic teaching skills, learning to use educational software, and learning the general expectations and professional standards of sociologists. Faculty are encouraged to allow assistants to prepare and deliver lectures, and to assist in the construction and evaluation of syllabi, handouts, and tests. Busy work is kept to a minimum.

Students holding research assistantships administer research questionnaires, do literature searches, enter research data into data bases, and many other tasks that support ongoing research. Again, faculty are expected to view the tasks they assign as furthering the education and professional development of the graduate student.

At Western, selected graduate assistants are given the responsibility for teaching a small section of introductory sociology. Different methods of selecting these students have been used including competitive auditions. Presently, students are selected for this responsibility on the basis of faculty recommendation and evaluation by the graduate committee. Under faculty supervision, the graduate student has responsibility for selecting a course text and preparing a syllabus, tests, and assigning grades. Teaching their own small course is a tremendous responsibility for the student, and actually consumes more than the fifteen hours of work per week allotted to graduate assistants. On the other hand, most of the graduate students selected report that they greatly enjoyed the classroom. While not common in Master's degree programs, teaching under the supervision of a faculty member is excellent preparation for community college teaching.

Sources of assistantship funding

A specified number of assistantships are allocated annually to each department by the university. The number of these assistantships remains fairly constant and depends on the overall funding of the university and the size and vigor of the individual graduate programs. University offices, such as Academic Services, may also be allocated assistantships by the university. In turn, these offices may award assistantships by way of academic departments. Thus, for several years Academic Services has awarded an assistantship to a sociology graduate student who provides tutoring to undergraduates enrolled in sociology courses.

Research assistantships are often funded by grants from agencies, corporations, and individuals outside the university. Many of these grants provide funding for only one year. A few are renewable and provide funding year by year on a contingency basis.

Availability of graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis. To be competitive, the applicant needs at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and strong letters of recommendation. Graduate assistantships are not awarded to probationary students. Assistantships are generally awarded to incoming students, but individual departments may reserve one or two assistantship to be awarded to students already in the program. The intensity of competition varies from year to year, but usually there are five applicants for every three graduate assistantships.