Ask La Bricoleuse: What are Grad School Assistantships?

If you've been following this series of posts on applying to grad school, you may be asking yourself, "What is she even talking about when she says assistantships?"

A graduate assistantship is basically financial assistance in paying for graduate school.

It's different from a scholarship, in that you are expected to do something in exchange for the stipend, whereas a scholarship is generally just a monetary award given to you because you fit whatever the criteria are for the award.

With respect to the nature of assistantships, I can only speak for my own program at UNC-Chapel Hill, but at least that'll hopefully give you a basis for how to phrase informed questions about those in other prospective programs as well.

We have several types of assistantships, and they all fall under two categories: the teaching assistantship and the research assistantship.

Teaching assistantships may involve helping a senior faculty member with the workload of a large undergraduate theatre class (this usually means grading papers and proctoring exams), teaching a smaller undergraduate costume intro course, or co-teaching a lab course (like makeup) with a senior faculty member. In our program, your assistantship only applies to one class at a time, so you'd never be assisting with multiple classes AND taking a full courseload of your own.

Research assistantships in our program are tied to our collections and archives, so you might be serving as an acquisitions coordinator (related to the intake of costume/clothing donations from benefactors and issuance of tax letters related to those donations) or loan supervisor (helping outside organizations wishing to borrow from our collection), or with the documentation and taxonomy of the CoStar Vintage Clothing Archive. We're working on other types of research assistantships which hopefully will include management opportunities with respect to our second-stage shows and our mobile theatre productions. Research assistantships also usually entail some supervision of undergraduate work-study students who help out with the documentation, preservation, and storage-related labor.

The rule of thumb with us is that students spend an average of 8-10 hours per week working on their assistantship duties, though clearly this depends on the nature of the assistantship (so, someone working in the archive really would probably spend about that a week on a regular basis, whereas someone whose teaching assistantship involved grading papers for a large class might go weeks without doing anything and then have a pile of papers to grade over the course of a couple weeks' time). We generally make it known in advance what sorts of time commitments are required for which assistantships, so students have the info they need to manage their time.

One thing to inquire about, if there is a LORT theatre in residence at the program, is whether the graduate program is involved with the LORT productions, and how that interfaces with coursework and assistantships. In our program, students work on the mainstage productions as part of a Practicum course, for which they receive credit; it's not a part of their assistantships. Some places, the assistantship may consist of working on LORT shows in lieu of a salary/wage.

Another question worth asking is whether the assistantship comes in the form of a tuition waiver, or exists in addition to one. Our department has both tuition waivers and assistantships, so your stipend goes toward living expenses or school supplies or whatever. There are a lot more details about that which are beyond my purview but which other faculty/staff will explain to incoming students.

If you are applying to schools for the fall, good luck! And, if you are thinking about it for a future year, hopefully this was of use.

Period pattern project in process, by third year grad Jane Reichard


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