It is very common for graduate students to work to generate income for their living expenses. The students may work for their universities as research assistants, teaching assistants, or in some other role to receive compensatory pay. Students may have an outside part-time or full-time job or “side hustle,” if permitted by their programs. Before you begin your program, you should find out if it is typical for students to work as research assistants or teaching assistants and how proactive you have to be about finding assignments.
Students will often work directly for the university as a research assistant (RA) or teaching assistant (TA) in exchange for a stipend and scholarships that go toward paying tuition and fees. RA and TA positions typically have a maximum time commitment of 20 hours per week to allow for dissertation progress in the remaining time. An RA will work directly for a faculty member doing research, which could be identical to her dissertation research or on an unrelated project. A TA will assist a faculty member in teaching a course by lecturing, grading, running a lab, holding office hours, etc. There may be other types of graduate assistantships (GAs) available at some universities, in which a grad student will perform duties that are not research or teaching. In some programs, grad students will automatically be assigned an RA or TA position, but in other programs the he will need to find and apply for positions independently. Since these expectations are field- and university-specific, you should find out what is common for your programs during the application process. (RAs and TAs receive compensatory pay.)
Programs that provide full financial support will often disallow or frown upon students from having outside jobs because the student’s full attention should be on her classes and research progress. However, in programs that do not provide full financial support, it may be typical to work an outside job or take out loans or both. If you do take on outside work, you should try to find a job that still allows you sufficient time to work toward your degree, either because it will allow you to work simultaneously or because it has a high pay rate so you can limit your hours.
Jobs with Tuition Benefits
Some employers will offer to pay part or all of their employee’s tuition while they pursue a degree, usually on a part-time basis. Many universities offer this benefit to their staff and staff’s families, so you could strategically choose to work for a university so that you can attend for free or reduced cost. There is often a waiting period before this benefit kicks in, so if you are choosing a job expecting this benefit, be sure to read the fine print of your contract.
Side Hustles and Complementary Work
Programs often turn a blind eye to a side income if it doesn’t interfere with dissertation progress or even encourage work that complements the student’s research such as starting a company, consulting in the field, or doing an internship.
Check out our seven-part series on side incomes!