Hi back, everyone. In my previous article, I wrote about MS v/s PhD – PhD Gives Fatter Paycheck (staying anonymous) .
And in this one, I thought it would be better to clear up some funda that keep coming up in such discussions: RA and TA.
Almost everyone keeps blabbering about it, but few might actually know the nuances of that.
First, What is RA and TA?
RA stands for Research Assistant.
TA stands for Teaching Assistant.
These both terms keep coming up because they are the main sources of funding for grad students when you go to a univ.
As RA, you are required to work on some professor’s project (typically 20 hours a week)….”work” as in experiment, analyze, cross-check observations, take observations, write program codes, also help by co-authoring papers, blah-blah…. that kinda work.
As TA, your work description will be like taking quizzes, checking answer sheets, invigilating tests, helping undergrads in their studies, etc..
So which is preferred amongst the two? In my grad application process, a professor, let’s say Dr X of ABC univ in USA was extremely kind to share the scenario with me. I will rephrase her words for you as follows:
- RA is preferred because “the work you do as an RA becomes your own Ph.D. dissertation under the professor’s guidance”. Hence, u won’t have to put in extra efforts or time to do your dissertation plus u can hope to be guided by the professor a bit compared to others (remember profs in good univs can go for months without giving a precious glimpse to the underdogs! :P) Result: extra chill time! J
- RA is preferred because “RAs are employed (paid) for 12 months but TAs get paid for 9months in a year only, they are not “employed” during summer months since courses are fewer”. So basically, RAs don’t have to worry about funding or accommodation throughout the year.
- RAs get paid from a prof’s project, so that amount is stretchable according to the prof’s whim. Usually it is more and has better perks than a TA’s.
- TAs are not paid by any professor; they are funded by the institute, it is fixed and non-negotiable.
- Getting RA is tough, but TA is tougher. I can’t tell you the name of the univ (yeah, everything is anonymous about me, sorry :P) but take my word for it: it’s damn good. Anyways, back to the point: a prof from that univ (CSE Deptt) answered when I inquired that “there are no TA positions in that whole deptt for a WHOLE YEAR atleast”. And it’s the scene pretty much everywhere else. Go figure!
- You can contact profs for RA before you go for your admission and its possible that you get an assurance of an RA funding before you join the univ (what a relief!) but you CANNOT contact anyone for TA. After you submit your application, you can just cross your fingers or count rosemary beads of getting chosen by the univ miraculously for a TA.
- RA get free travel allowances to conferences and workshops globally, but TAs seldom get such boons (boon as in imagine what socializing with famous scientists for eg, at these conferences can do to you!!)”
- “Its only as an RA that you will able to learn something commendable,new and interesting through your research, something that counts and will pay off. But as a TA, you will only learn how to be a good teacher. Hard but true, no offenses!”
All that said, every good thing has a catch-22 clause right?
Here’s the thing: Prof X said “RAs are tougher than TAs for fresh undergrad applicants” (but not as tough as for grad as I mentioned).
Also, some univs have a rule that all incoming grads will have to work as TA for a year then the possibility of RA can be explored.
On the lighter side, RA is not for lazy people: you have to work hard and work your grey cells as well. Also, since it is a 12month job, you might not get to see your folks and your hometown as much (if at all)
And when you contact a prof for RA, remember that they usually assume MS students do not contribute any significant progress to their research, so mention (and have that mindset) about wanting to go for direct PhD or MS+PhD (jeez! Could have added this very good point to my MS Phd Dilemma post earlier!!)
In my next post soon, I will give a short writeup about tips on how to contact prof, as suggested by…..yep, you guessed it right…… by Prof X
Luck till then!