Graduate Assistantships: A Pretty Sweet Deal

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Most of the journalism grad students I know are pretty obsessed with finding ways to generate two things: relevant work experience and income. Graduate assistantships are pretty much the ideal way to get both at the same time.

Essentially, you get paid to work for the journalism department doing things that they need done that will also help build your resume. Seems like a win-win, right?

Many prospective and incoming students ask me about getting a graduate assistantship, so here’s my experience of how it works in the journalism department:

There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: You probably won’t get offered an assistantship your first semester into the program. If you’re looking to make money in the fall, you’ll want to look for other on- or off-campus jobs.

Now the good news: It’s good that you get fall semester to dedicate to your classes. Believe me. The more effort you invest in your Fall classes, the easier your Spring semester will be.

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Your journalism professors may approach you during the Fall semester to brainstorm about ways you could build your assistantship and meet their needs. J-term (during the month of January, which falls between Fall and Spring semesters) is probably the best time to nail down what exactly you’ll be doing in your assistantship.

Everyone’s assistantships look a little different. I edit ChicagoTalks and assist with Covering Religion. One of my classmates works as a web editor for Echo, Columbia’s award winning school magazine. And another of my classmates is a teaching assistant and helps our department’s internship coordinator put together special events.

The process is pretty informal but works well for the intimate size of the graduate journalism program.

I’ve wanted to be a professor ever since my mind was blown in the first session of my first class of college. And though several years of gaining more work experience temporarily separate me from being a journalism professor for the time being, I’ve already begun to practice teaching as the assistant to Dr. Norma Green’s Covering Religion Class.

It’s been a huge learning experience and a lot of fun so far. TAing for Covering Religion uses the expertise I gained in my previous master’s degree, and Norma has really challenged me to take a leadership role in the class. These pictures are from the awesome tour we took of sacred spaces in downtown Chicago as part of a class field trip.

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Most of my assistantship time is dedicated to editing ChicagoTalks under the expert supervision of Dr. Barb Iverson and Suzanne McBride. Every story I edit gives me valuable practice negotiating AP style and lets me explore the ins and outs of being an editor.

Editing definitely has its challenges (I’m considering having my AP Stylebook surgically implanted), but it’s very rewarding. I love that I get to help students become better writers through the collaborative editing process, and I get to learn how to make sharp editorial decisions.

For me, my grad assistantship has really helped me define my career goals. Through it, I’ve learned that I love editing and teaching and would really like to be doing both some day.