Why Graduate Students Should Want to Teach
by Linda Stewart
Assistant Director for Graduate Student Support and Associate Professor of English
Kennesaw State University
Graduate students are some of the busiest people on a college campus. Aside from research and writing demands in their graduate program, graduate students are often trying to balance their responsibilities to family, friends, or employers as well. At any given time, graduate students are researching, experimenting, writing, developing proposals, defending a thesis or dissertation, and preparing for a job search. Added to these responsibilities, international graduate students experience additional cultural and language challenges (Sarkisian, E. & Maurer, V. 1998). So, why would graduate students want to teach undergraduates when they have so much to do already? Actually, there are several advantages for graduate students who choose to apply for a teaching assistantship.
While graduate stressors are many, teaching is not one of them, according to a 2012 APA survey. Academic responsibilities, financial concerns, and anxiety top out at over 60%, but teaching barely makes it into the double digits at 13% (El-Ghoroury, Galper, Sawaqdeh & Bufka, 2012). In addition, particularly in Ph.D. programs, graduate students may feel isolated. Teaching creates opportunities for building relationships and becoming part of a community of teacher-scholars. Here are some proven benefits to teaching as a graduate student:
- Improving communications skills when interacting with students
- Transitioning from an expert learner to a colleague-in-training
- Relationship-building with faculty, peers, and students
- Identifying multiple mentors
- Gaining the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to be successful as future faculty in higher education
- Preparing for the job search
In addition to this list, a recent large-sample study in Ohio found compelling evidence that graduate teaching assistants were not only more likely to graduate “in a timely manner,” but also their teaching experience made them more readily employable at a college or university (Bettinger, Long & Taylor 2016).
While there are many personal benefits to teaching, graduates also contribute to the quality of undergraduate education and impact the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching. The Ohio study found that undergraduates who take an introductory course taught by a graduate student are much more likely to major in that subject than those who took the same course from a full-time faculty member (Bettinger, Long, & Taylor, 2016).
If these reasons are not convincing enough, a recent study of undergraduates’ perceptions of graduate student teachers has great implications for KSU’s commitment to improving retention, progression, and graduation rates of undergraduates. Kendall and Schussler (2012) found that graduates were perceived to be more approachable, engaging, interactive, and enthusiastic than the professor. While the study acknowledged that graduate student teachers were often perceived as nervous or uncertain, undergraduates were far more likely to ask them questions than the professor. These characteristics matter when working with undergraduates and could make a powerful difference in an undergraduate’s experience and willingness to stay in school.
CETL provides teaching support for those who are awarded a teaching assistantship. We offer a one-credit, fully online, 11-week course: GRAD 9001; An online, self-paced course "Introduction to Scholarly Teaching;" teaching orientations, webinars & workshops, classroom observations, student focus groups, consultations, custom programming, and more. Please contact us for further information.
If you are interested in applying for a teaching assistantship, talk to your advisor or program director.
See the Graduate College website for more information.
View our comprehensive list of GSPD Teaching and Learning Resources.
Bettinger, E. P., B. T. Long, E. S. Taylor (2016). When inputs are outputs: The case of graduate student instructors. Economics of Education Review. http://dxdoi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2016.01.005
El-Ghoroury, N.H., Galper, D.I., Sawaqdeh, A., & Bufka, L.F. (2012). Stress, coping, and barriers to wellness among psychology graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 6(2), 122–134. doi:10.1037/a0028768
Flaherty, C. (2016) Study suggests graduate student instructors influence undergraduates to major in the discipline and graduate students also benefit from teaching. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com
Kendall, K. D. & E. E. Schussler (2012). Does instructor type matter? Undergraduate student perception of graduate teaching assistants and professors. CBE Life Sciences Education. doi: 10.1187/cbe.11-10-0091. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0)
Nyquist, J. & Sprague, J. (1998). Thinking developmentally about TAs. In Marincovich, Prostko, Stout (Eds.). The Professional Development of Graduate Teaching Assistants. Bolton Ma: Anker Publishing.
Sarkisian, E. & Maurer, V. (1998). International TA training and beyond: Out of the program and into the classroom. In Marincovich, Prostko, Stout (Eds.) The Professional Development of Graduate Teaching Assistants. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
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