Question on Research Assistantships

If I go through my entire graduate school career without a research assistantship or a fellowship, is that going to look bad when I go on the market? I've never applied for either one, the reason being that I enjoy teaching, and I don't think I'd be happy if I weren't teaching. In fact, I've been teaching year-round for two years now, and I'd like to continue doing so if possible.


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Dorothea here --

The assumption you're making is that there's some strategy that will work better than any other in securing you an academic job.

I don't believe there is, frankly. It's such a crapshoot that you might as well play it your way and see what happens.

Cindy here

A little cynical, Dorothea? ;-)

Unfortunately, you may be right. But Clancy, I don't see how choosing teaching assistantships can hurt you when your interests are primarily comp/rhet. I would think the only advantage to a research-type assistantship is it allows you to work closely with (hopefully) an influential scholar; your dissertation shows you can do research.

Maybe I'm not the best one to listen to since I chose to be ABD and seek a community college job, but I know grad students who did all of their assistantships in teaching and still got jobs.

Going on the Market

HI Clancy. Here are my comments about what you are doing.

First, it is really going to depend on where you apply and where you want to be. While the US might be a bit different from Canada - I think there are some similarities. There are three different kinds of university foci - 1. research focus 2. Teaching focus 3. A balance of research and teaching. At some point you will have to decide where you want to be in this range. I personally like research and teaching, so I would like to be in a university that reflects that. I don't ONLY want to teach OR research - and I know what certain universities expect from their profs - ie: University of Toronto is ALL about the research, whereas where I am teaching now at Brock U - the is focus on teaching (though the university is starting to expect more research grant money from profs now). So where you put your emphasis now will certainly reflect on where you end up.

Having said that, there are grad students who do not teach - and only work as a teaching asst - we don't have the option of teaching courses here in Canada - they usually hire PhD completed, part time contract workers for that. There are also students who do not work as RAs. It really depends on the student, how much money/funding they have etc etc.

You have to do what you want to do right now - to keep you happy and to compell you to finish this damn PhD. That's why we are doing this right?

When you put your teaching dossier together, you can proudly state that teaching students is important to you, which is why you chose to do so over the years. Gaining teaching experience is valuable, and you can spin this in your favour.

In terms of research, you can talk about the research that you have done in the past (citing conference papers, published papers or papers that you have written etc). Also, when you go for your job talk, you can provide a outline of future research that you will undertake and where you might look for funding. This shows the hiring committee that you will continue to progress as a new faculty (both in teaching and research) and will potentially bring research money into the department (which they all like).

I am not sure how the fellowship system works in the US. We are expected to apply to grants and scholarships every year, but they are hard to get. Sure, it looks good if you get them, but everyone knows its a crap shoot and depends on who is on the review committee (and what the "hot topics" are).

So, that is my two cents. Keep doing what you are doing and gain your teaching experience (also nice to include course outlines and teaching evaluations in the dossier). The main objective at this point is to enjoy the hellish process as much as you can, and to GET DONE. Create a good dossier and sweep them off their feet at the job talk.


TAs v RAs


The short answer to your question is no, there are no expectations with respect to research assistantships in our field. Cindy's right in that an RAship can "add value," but not doing one isn't going to subtract.

FWIW, my experience has been that people who don't teach that much in grad school have a lot more trouble coping with balance issues, ie, making progress on publications while managing a much larger teaching load than they're used to (esp if they're used to none). And frankly, it's not that tough to tell (from dossier or interview) when a candidate has been trained to think of research and teaching as opposites, and of teaching as something that detracts from his/her research. Finally, there's the whole issue of those who take *more* time bc they don't have teaching to help them structure their time.

I half agree with Dorothea about the crapshootitude of the market. Our advice (I'm one of the placementors in the program here) is that it's best to focus on what you do (and esp what you do well) rather than trying to achieve some mythical ideal profile. Trying to predict that ideal is indeed a shot in the dark. Making a strong case for the quality of your work, both present and future, is something that will help, though, and our students have been pretty successful in that regard...


Great feedback

Thanks, all. :) I know that in our department, they emphasize the importance of having a clear, coherent research agenda--as in, each publication follows logically/intuitively the one that preceded it. When the search committee asks, "What's next for you?" it shouldn't be something, like, at antipodes from your other research. When I wrote the original post, I was wondering if a really good, solid research agenda should include an RAship at some point along the way. However, it seems the most important thing is being able to articulate your agenda, situate it in an existing body of research in the field (which is why I'm situating my research in gender and computer-mediated communication and not blog research as such), and make a case for why it's needed--the "so what?" factor.

one last thing

Another thing to consider is what KIND of academic job you want. A smaller liberal arts school, community college, or Tier II state school will probably be dazzled by all your teaching experience, and not really care whether you had an RAship. A Research-I university like Minnesota is going to be more concerned with your research.

At the same time, fellowships ALWAYS look good on your CV, and the more you have, the more likely it is you'll be selected for others. Yuck.

If it benefits you...

I'd think about fellowships from the perspective of benefit to your scholarly development, not your marketability. As Collin and others have suggested, you can certainly control the former, but the latter is more nebulous. To that end, are there local fellowships that would allow you to study things that interest you? Does the level of financial support meet your needs? Will a fellowship give you time to focus on developing the dissertation? To be specific, does the research program you are currently envisioning fit the requirements of a fellowship or research assistantship? Not the other way around...

Get Done!

If the RA position will help you get your dissertation done faster, or if you'll be working under someone whose name will make hiring committees drool, then take it (so long as you won't be stuffing envelopes and feeding pets for your sponsor).

If the RA gets you experience outside of your dissertation that will make you more marketable, take it. (My dissertation was on American Lit, but it was my RA work and the instructional web design I did for several writing centers that made me stand out as a camdidate).

If you're simply worried that not having an RA will make you look bad, I don't think that's a very strong a reason to take one.

Dennis G. Jerz

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