Why are most RA/TA positions open to Masters AND PhD students? Unless you’re an exceptional Masters student, it’s almost impossible to compete against PhD students for positions that are open to both, as PhD students usually have more experience/education. Why not have RA/TA positions that are only for Masters students so they can reduce the amount of student loans they have to take out and increase their experience/desirability for future employers? Masters students typically receive less funding (other than loans) than PhD students since, at least in the School of Public Health, PhD students are usually part of a research team for their dissertation. –Anonymous
December 2018: This response has been edited slightly to reflect changes in UW’s job boards and to provide more widely applicable advice.
This week’s answer is courtesy of Helene Obradovich, director, UW Graduate School Office of Fellowships and Awards
Individual academic programs determine which of their students are prioritized for funding, and what type/duration of funding. In some academic programs on campus, all Ph.D. students get guarantees of funding, but master’s students may not get any kind of commitment with admission. Other academic programs may guarantee funding to a portion of their PhD students and a portion of their master’s students. Many of these decisions rest on the amount of available funding that the department has, whether they offer coursework that requires the assistance of TAs, how much grant funding faculty have, etc. The vast number of different graduate programs in disciplines that span the academic spectrum means that departments, schools and colleges all have a different focus in their graduate student funding opportunities.
What you also seem to be asking, though, is “how do I find funding if my own department doesn’t provide opportunities for RAs or TAs?” In that case, we highly recommend that you do several different things:
- Because hiring decisions are made by individual units on campus, inquire with other units to see if they hire students from outside of their department for TA or RA positions. For instance, if your undergraduate major happened to be in Biology, you might contact that department to see if they ever hire TAs from outside their own student population. If you have knowledge of a language, you could do the same with a unit that offers that language instruction on campus.
- Occasionally there are administrative units that hire graduate students into SA (staff assistant) or RA positions. Centers, libraries, and other departments that don’t have a ready supply of their own graduate students will advertise those positions to the general campus population. Resources to help you in this search include the UW Jobs website (look under the “academic student employee” category), the Graduate Funding Information Services blog (GFIS, in the Library), and Handshake through the Career & Internship Center. There’s not a particular time of year that all departments are hiring ASEs, so it’s something you should to check on regularly.
- I highly encourage you to check with GFIS. Not only is their blog really helpful for funding opportunities of all kinds ( you should definitely subscribe!), GFIS also helps graduate students search various funding databases for opportunities that suit their background.
- Lastly, do not underestimate the power of networking. Make it known to the faculty who teach your classes that you’re interested in TA and RA opportunities. Talk to other master’s students who appear to have landed TA and RA positions and find out how they landed them. Don’t limit yourself to speaking only with people in your department!
Finally, share your concerns with your department administration and even possibly your school/college administration. While in almost all cases they are dealing with prioritizing a finite amount of available funding, they should absolutely be aware of how their decisions are affecting their students on an ongoing basis.
Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →