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How to Find and Land a PhD Graduate Assistantship

Posted by Shelly Quance on 5/4/23 10:48 AM

  May 04, 2023    

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As a PhD or doctoral candidate, you are already well on your way to obtaining the graduate degree program that is going to serve as a launching pad for the next step in your career. 

You’ve chosen the university that aligns with your values; you’ve chosen the field of study that matches your long term career goals; and now, you’re making strides to ensure that you are taking advantage of all of the experiential learning opportunities available to you.

One way to do this? By securing a graduate assistantship position.

Let’s discuss graduate assistantships — including how to research and secure one as a doctoral student.

️ Explore how to become a graduate assistant with our Graduate Assistantship  Guide!

What is a Graduate Assistantship?

Graduate assistantships are a form of academic employment for which students must apply and be accepted based on academic excellence and faculty referral. 

A graduate assistant is a graduate student who secures a specific academic job for which students are selected based on academic excellence and faculty referral. Most graduate assistants receive a tuition waiver and small stipend for the tasks they perform for faculty members or departments.

In addition, graduate assistantships are a strategic way for master’s and doctoral degree students to gain practical field experience, deepen academic understanding, and network with thought leaders and students in their field.

Learn more about the value of graduate assistantships at WVU with The Summit Ahead Podcast, Episode 3.

How to Become a Graduate Assistant the PhD or Doctoral Level

As a doctoral student at a reputable university, you have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to graduate assistantship positions. Here are a few tips related to researching and securing a PhD graduate assistantship.

Take a look at your availability and bandwidth.

This may go without saying, but before applying for or committing to a graduate assistantship, you need to ensure that you have the time and energy to apply yourself to the additional responsibilities an assistantship will require of you. As a doctoral student, you are busy and your time is precious — so be sure to protect your limited availability and adjust your priorities as needed.

You also may want to consider waiting to secure an assistantship position during a semester(s) that you know your coursework and workload is going to be manageable. 

Identify the type of assistantship that will align with your future goals.

There are several different types of graduate assistantships, and you definitely want to choose one that is going to align with your long term career goals. 

For instance, if you are obtaining a graduate degree that is designed to prepare you for faculty leadership (such as a PhD in Higher Education), then you may want to prioritize seeking a teaching assistantship.

Similarly, if you are working towards a graduate degree that is research-based (such as a PhD in Public Health Sciences), then you may want to consider securing a graduate research assistantship.

Network with your mentor or advisor to determine the best choice for you.

Your mentor or faculty advisor will be a great resource as you research assistantships and can help you determine which choice is best for you. Since they know the ins-and-outs of what each assistantship largely consists of, you should seek their guidance before committing to a position. 

In addition, your mentor or advisor can also advocate for you and even put in a good word to the leader of the overall assistantship position.

Apply and interview with confidence.

Once you have determined the position you and your advisor think is a good fit for you, it’s time to apply! You will want to customize your application (if you are applying to more than one position), provide references, prepare for an interview, and conduct yourself with confidence and respect.

Once you’ve interviewed, be sure to follow up in an appropriate amount of time. 

Learn About Doctoral and PhD Graduate Assistantships at WVU

West Virginia University awards approximately 1,700 graduate assistantships annually to incoming and continuing graduate students. These graduate assistantships are supported by state appropriations, federal funds, and private grants and contracts. 

All graduate assistants must be accepted into a graduate degree program and are required to be enrolled full-time while employed during the fall and spring terms (9 credits or more).

For additional information on Graduate Assistantships, visit the Graduate Education and Life site. You can also review the types of graduate assistantship we offer here.

Become a Graduate Assistant at WVU; Connect with Us!

Here at West Virginia University, we know that for driven and ambitious graduate students, obtaining a graduate assistantship is truly a rewarding experience.

Serving as support to some of the best in your field, getting a glimpse of what it is like to be a working professional, and building a network with those who are thought leaders in your area of study are just a few reasons a graduate assistantship is a strategic and excellent way to augment your graduate education.

You have the valuable opportunity to join a community of driven changemakers at WVU. Take this opportunity to request more information or review our one-stop shop Application Guide. 

You can also subscribe to The Summit Ahead Podcast for more stories, research, and more!





Learn more about how to become a graduate assistant with our Graduate Assistantship Guide!

Download the GA Guide






Topics: WVU Graduate Programs, Funding Your Graduate Education

Posted by Shelly Quance

Shelly Quance has spent almost 20 years working in higher education marketing communications. She currently serves as Director for West Virginia University’s Office of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment where she works collaboratively with College leadership to develop, implement, and evaluate creative and effective comprehensive communication and marketing plans to increase graduate student enrollment.


About the Blog

Deciding what graduate school to attend can be daunting at times, and navigating the admissions process can be that much more difficult. We hope to make the journey from considering graduate school to enrolling in a graduate program easier by publishing content that will be helpful to you as you discern if, when, and where, to pursue your next degree.

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