There are about 450 graduate assistants currently teaching on campus. Learning to balance their student and assistant responsibilities helps them prepare for post-graduation.
Ranjit Koodali, the dean of graduate education, said there are four types of GAs.
Koodali said the biggest benefit students receive from being a graduate assistant is the stipend.
“The South Dakota Board of Regents, they set a minimum standard that all public institutions have to comply,” he said. “It is up to the departments or schools or colleges to give a higher stipend.”
The minimum stipend set by SDBOR in this fiscal year is $3,763 per semester, but some grants allow for students to receive higher stipends, Koodali said.
“For example, typically in a doctoral program, Ph.D., and materials chemistry, students receive $24,000 annually for 12 months,” he said. “There are grants in which students receive as high as $34,000. So the stipends vary from the minimum to as high as $34,000 annually.”
Another benefit of being a graduate assistant, Koodali said, is the reduced tuition. They still have to pay the full fees, however.
“If one is a resident of South Dakota, you pay 53 percent of the resident tuition fees, if one is a non-resident, you pay 63 percent of the resident tuition fees,” Koodali said.
Koodali said graduate assistants also have the benefit of getting hands-on teaching experience, conducting research with faculty and learning new knowledge or skills in their disciplines.
“So collectively, the stipend, the reduced tuition and that work experience be it in a teaching setting, research, clinical or administrative setting, are the three benefits that I think graduate students have during their studies,” he said.
Magen Chan, a first-year graduate student IOR, is studying communication studies. She said in addition to the tuition reduction and stipend, she’s enjoyed the teaching experience.
“It’s great, of course, since I’m an international student, I think teaching speech classes will help my communication skills especially,” Chan said.
Chan teaches two Speech 101 courses.
“I’m learning a lot because speech 101 is a really basic course that we took in freshman (year)… so it’s like refreshing memories and communication skills for sure,” Chan said.
Types of assistantships
The first type is graduate teaching assistants, GTAs. Koodali said there are roughly 50 of them across multiple departments on campus.
A subclass of those are the graduate teaching assistants who are called instructors of record, IORs. Koodali said they’re given full freedom to develop a course under the mentorship of faculty.
The next type of assistants are graduate clinical assistants. Koodali said the two largest groups of assistants are the graduate research assistants, GRAs, and the graduate administrative assistants, GAAs.
“We do have a breakdown of the graduate assistantships in each department, and it varies depending on the size of the graduate programs,” Koodali said. “Some have certificates and masters, some have master specialists and doctoral programs, some have only masters program, and so the number of students vary depending on the size of the graduate programs.”
A balancing act
Graduate assistants are also full-time students. Mominul Islam, a second-year graduate student GAA studying computer science, said it’s tough to balance it all, but “doable.”
“Sometimes when I have more homework assignments and midterms, quizzes and all this stuff, in that time probably I have some work, but they’ll be flexible to work with them,” Islam said. “I just tell them, ‘Hey I have a exam, I have a quiz or I have an online test, so can I just reschedule my schedule’ and they give us those flexibilities.”
Islam works for USD’s Information Technology Services, ITS.
Chan said she uses her office hours as much as possible to help balance her schedule.
“I prepare my teaching the day before and during the weekend and I use a lot of office hours,” Chan said. “Before class I will come back and after class I will come back to office as well and just use any time to try to work on my own homework and prepare the class.”
Cheyenne Marco, an IOR, is in the fourth year of her Ph.D. program and studying English with an emphasis in creative writing.
“For me, it’s really about sitting down and knowing that okay, from 9:30 to 12:15, I’m going to be teaching,” Marco said. “From 12:15 to 3:15 I’m going to be in my office and I’m going to be working either on grading papers or I’m going to be talking to students, or maybe I use that time to catch up with colleagues. Then after that, it’s very rigorous scheduling that I’m going to spend an hour working on my coursework, I’m going to spend an hour working on lesson plans, an hour working on my dissertation and just kind of making sure that I’m checking off boxes throughout the day.”
Islam said having the discipline to manage his time as a graduate assistant will help him in the future. Islam will finish school this December and his goal is to work for IT in big companies.
“I mean, you always find a way or always find a good schedule so you can manage it or you can use your time as best you can because you have to study or you have to work,” Islam said.
Marco, who’s graduating in May of 2019, said she plans to continue teaching.
“I’ve had such great support here at USD, it’s helped me kind of recognize the tools that it takes to be a great teacher while I’m here at USD,” Marco said. “And how to talk about my experience and how I can use that on a resume to get the job that I want.”
Chan said she’s not sure what she wants to do after graduation yet.
“No plan is the plan,” Chan said. “I think it just depends on these next two years, how I do in my job and my studies.”
Marco said the graduate program does a lot to instill responsibility in graduate students.
“Recognizing that you’re not just responsible for yourself as a scholar, but you’re responsible for other students as well, that you’re kind of responsible for furthering the field,” Marco said. “You do that in a classroom and you do that by inspiring the next generation. So for me it’s really about teaching and really getting to kind of help guide students in their love for the profession.”