Working in Graduate School: What to Expect

From teaching assistantships to internships, there are a wide variety of opportunities to work while in graduate school.

Teaching Assistant

Some graduate students will work as teaching assistants. Teaching assistants are responsible for teaching classes, running special study sessions and assisting students during course time and in office hours. Teaching assistants will mark assignments and exams. They are responsible for running laboratory sessions, as by watching over students in a chemistry laboratory or providing assistance in a language lab.

Teaching assistantships offer valuable teaching experience and can help the graduate student secure a reference letter from a supervising professor. Teaching assistantships can require up to 20 hours or more a week, depending on the school or department, and some students will have multiple teaching assistantships. At some schools, teaching assistants will also receive an evaluation from the students they are teaching or supervising.

If the graduate student is determined to pursue a career in academia, these evaluations, as evidence of teaching experience, are essential. A summary of evaluations is usually included in a professor's teaching dossier or referred to in a cover letter for employment as a professor or other instructor.

Other Campus Employment

College campuses offer employment opportunities for students in libraries, financial aid offices and college career centers. Additional opportunities include working in the registrar or faculty office as part of the administrative staff. Some campuses also hire students as peer advisers and writing tutors and may have student positions with campus security. You will benefit from selecting an on-campus opportunity that relates to your graduate studies; for example, an English graduate student may pursue a position as a writing tutor to get experience teaching students composition. However, trying something outside of your normal realm of study, such as becoming an auxiliary campus security officer although you are, say, a chemistry student, can offer a new and unexpected experience.

On campus employment opportunities are usually advertised in the human resources office on campus. Many of these positions start in the fall term and are advertised and filled by summer, so check the job postings at the human resources office as soon as you have been accepted to a graduate program.


Internships are available as part-time work during the school year and part- or full-time positions during the summer. Some internships are identified as entry-level work after graduate school. Internships are usually advertised through the faculty office, in the campus career center or through a professional association. As the competition for teaching assistantships and fellowships increases and more graduate students look for careers outside of academia, more graduate students are looking for internships as a way to supplement their incomes. At least one internship outside of academia is a good idea for graduate students at any level so they can explore more career options.

An "externship," you should note, is not an internship. An externship is an unpaid job shadow that usually takes from one day to one week to complete. Externships are usually arranged through the alumni or career center office, and participants may have to register in the program several weeks in advance to make sure that there are enough externship placements available for all interested student applicants. An externship may turn into a paid internship, so it is an opportunity worth investigating.

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