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Which is Better – Research Assistantship vs Teaching Assistantship?

So, do you want to know which is better?

Which is better: Teaching Assistantship, Research Assistantship, or Graduate Assistantship?

Before we look into this, make sure you have read the Difference between Teaching, Research, and Graduate Assistantships.

In this analysis, you will find personal experiences from three student’s who worked and both TA and RA.

To understand which is better, you have to know two things:

  1. Degree Plan (Track)
  2. Employment for F1 Students
  3. Who pays the Assistantship Stipend

1. The Degree Plan

There are three types of Degree plan (this should cover the majority of Grad Schools in the USA):

  • Non-Thesis (or Structured) Track – Only Course work
  • Project Track – Courses + a Semester Long Project
  • Thesis Track – Courses + One or Two Semester Long Thesis work

Here’s an example of Thesis vs. Non-Thesis Track from Ohio State University.

Thesis vs Non-Thesis Track - ECE now offering two approaches to master's degree |

2. Employment for F1 Students

As an international student, you are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week.

  • Teaching Assistant – up to 20 hours per week
  • On-Campus Part-time Job – up to 20 hours per week
  • Paid Graduate Research Assistant – up to 20 hours per week

Working off-campus is not allowed, and it’s illegal.

3. Who Pays the Salary?

So, who’s paying your stipend or pay when you work?

  • Teaching Assistant – Employee of the University
  • Graduate Research Assistant – Employee of the University but money comes from the Professor’s Funds.

Let’s take a look at this scenario:

  • MS in Thesis Track under Professor X
  • Teaching Assistant for Computer Science 101 Course under Professor X (20 hours per week)
  • Research Work Under Professor X for Thesis (10 to 20 hours per week)

If you are a professor, who would you prefer?

Teaching Assistantship!

If Professor X offers three classes and requires three TA’s?

If the Department hires Professor Robert’s students as Teaching Assistants, the money will be paid by the University along with the benefits.

And the student would still work as a research assistant under Dr.Roberts.

The work you do as a Graduate Research Assitant could count towards your degree thesis requirements.

And, you have to work an additional 20 hours as a Teaching Assistant.

In some instance, you will be working as a Teaching Assistant to a different professor and take part in Research work under your professor.

In addition to TA work, you are required to spend hours on your research work (Thesis)!

I think in this case, Professor would be the beneficiary. Right?

Even if the salary for the Teaching Assistant is going to be shared with Professor’s grant money, the professor will end up saving money.

As for the Professor is concerned, you are getting reduced tuition fee and a monthly stipend.

  • Benefit for the Student: Double the Experience, but double the work.
  • Benefit for the Professor: Less Grant money spent on Research Assistant’s salary & benefits

There are Graduate Assistant positions where are a lab admin or database admin, where you are not doing research work. It will also fall under this category.

Research Assistant Position

If you work as a Graduate Research Assistant, you will get paid for the work you will anyway do as part of your Thesis!

So, Research Assistant position looks better. You don’t have to spend additional hours teaching.

But, what if you want to go into Academics?

You want to do PostDoc and teach?

The equation has changed. Right?

If you plan to complete your degree, graduate, and get a job, then Thesis Track is a better option.

If you want to become a Professor and teach students, then Teaching Experience will come in handy. But, it will be additional work.

But, you may not have control over getting the RA or TA.

Your professor has to recommend you and the Department have to hire you.

Standalone Teaching Assistant

I have seen grad school students where the work as Teaching Assistant, but doing Non-Thesis Track.

So, no research work is involved. Just 10 to 12 courses to get a Masters Degree.

In such an instance, TA should give them Tuition Fee Reduction and a monthly stipend.

Real-Life Examples: RA vs. TA vs. GRA

Let’s look at what students have to say about this.

Niti’s Comments:

Taking from personal experience as an MS student, Research > Teaching > Graduate Assistantship.

For RA, your advisor or research centre funds you for the research you are working on.

Almost always this research topic is the thesis too. So in the end, you are working for almost 20 hours/week just on your research.

I have been TA for two semesters and while it was very hectic to grade the answer sheets and assignments, hold office hours regularly, resolve students’ doubts offline and take the classes sometimes, it helps you gain a different kind of exposure and maturity.

Cons? You have to still allocate time for your research somehow apart from this 20 hours engagement.

I also worked as a GA for one semester and I enjoyed working for one undergrad department. It would become very hectic for me given that I again had to squeeze in time for my research, classes, assignments and job/internship search.

In end, all these assistantships covered my semester fee and I received a good stipend. The RAs usually get paid the most depending on advisor’s funds, followed by TA and RA.

Rhrishikesh’s Comments:

Technically RA>TA>GA.

But all in all, depends on what you are doing and what you want to do.

RA is not everyone’s cup of tea and GA can be a bit monotonous.

TA and RA help you keep in touch with the stuff that you study.

I was a Master’s student with coursework only option.

I did a TA as my on campus job.

My University expects to hold office hours once a week to solve student queries, help professor with grading the assignments, projects, quizzes etc.

So it was pretty convenient for me to manage my studies and work. Also it was one of the highest paying jobs on my University campus (Northeastern University in Boston. My stipend was $15/hour).

And with 20 hours every week I would get about $254 in hand every week. So, its about $1000 a month which is really good. And now it must be about 1200 a month ($17/Hour).

Kasia’s Comments:

It depends on your career goals and field.

If you say are planning to be a professor, you might actually want to teach, this always looks good on your CV, even though teaching can be very time consuming and take time away from your thesis/dissertation research.

During RA you are a slave of your professor which can create tension but gives you more time for research.

I personally was alternating between TA and RA, depending on funding, and as TA I actually thaught classes (big classes, I was a sole teacher, responsible for pretty much everything, teaching lectures, preparing classes, homework, office hours and more) and it was a good experience.

Summary: RA vs. TA vs. GRA

  • Both RA and TA has it’s pros and cons
  • RA: For Thesis Track student, GRA is a better option with a stipend
  • TA: For student’s planning for Academic career, TA is a better option (teaching experience)
  • TA vs. RA decision is controlled by the availability of funds with the professor

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