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Astronomy & Physics Education Research|CAPER

Managing a Graduate Assistantship

As part of your graduate program, many of you will be awarded a graduate assistantship or graduate fellowship. A graduate assistantship or fellowship is designed to (i) help move the research, teaching, and service efforts of the faculty forward and (ii) provide you with some funding to cover expenses you incur while going to school. These graduate assistantships and fellowships, hereafter called GA's for short, are awarded to faculty and departments on a highly competitive and need-based basis. As such, they are highly prized resources and faculty are responsible (and evaluated) for the products and services that result from GA efforts.

A GA is intended to take about 18 hours per week of effort. It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that this is often highly flexible, requiring much more time at certain periods and much less at others. If the assigned research tasks, teaching efforts, or service obligations for your GA greatly exceeds or falls short of 18 hours on a regular basis making it difficult for you to do your other work, you should speak to your mentoring committee chair. Sometimes expectations and tasks can be adjusted.

We will try to move you around to several different GA assignments over the course of your program in an effort to give you several experiences to list on your growing resume. Unfortunately, these assignments are often made at the last minute before the semester begins. However, your absolute best bet is to try to align your GA assignment with your dissertation research. If you do, then you can put your 18 hours per week of GA duties together with your research work time and have more hours per day dedicated to completing your dissertation. In other words, students who have a dissertation aligned with their GA finish the program faster and have less headaches than those who do not.This cannot always be accomplished, but is a good goal to strive for whenever possible.

Paperwork to get your funding in place is a complex task that should be initiated by your mentoring chair/advisor. As with all large university bureaucracies filled with red tape, things can fall through the crack and it is totally acceptable to pester your mentoring chair/advisor about getting your money who will then bother someone else who will then annoy yet a third person and, well, you get it. It takes time to correct a red tape error and you need to start the fixing part as soon as possible. As it turns out, a more senior graduate student will often know better work arounds than your mentoring chair and you should ask around for help from other students. In general, the culture at UW is not to talk to the administrative staff without first speaking to your advisor.

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