Do University Assistantships for Graduate/Ungraduate Students Qualify as Professional Experiences? The Debate is On

In the world of higher education, a popular opportunity for students to gain experience working in the field as come in the form of graduate assistantships. Graduate assistantships are usually a paid experience where an up-and-coming student affairs professional works on a part time basis (20 hours per week) in a student-focused office on campus. For both undergraduate and graduate students looking to gain valuable experience in the higher ed/student affairs field, graduate assistantships are a coveted opportunity.

However, a recent blog by Eric Stroller featured on Inside Higher Ed reflected on the possibility that potential employers do not value the graduate assistant experience as a “professional work experience”, especially when meeting the requirements of a job that requires “1-3 years of related professional experience”. For undergraduate students and even graduate students who enroll in their masters program directly out of undergrad, this notion is troublesome.

What I found even more telling about the debate over graduate assistantships was the comments left by readers. One of my favorite aspects of blogs and the technology that allows them to be possible is the near immediate feedback that can be left by the readers, creating a space for dialog rather than the personal soapbox of one individual. In the comments section, the debate waged on, with one user going by the name AK commenting that “I’m afraid I agree with the hiring committee. You are not a professional until you have earned the professional degree. Before that, you are a trainee”. On the other side, a user by the name of Niki stated that “My institution values graduate students as professional peers and assigns work that credits this value. I see graduate students as young professionals – learning as anyone else would during the first 2 years of their position. Citing graduate students as ‘trainees’ is demeaning”.

How do you feel about graduate assistantships or internships in general? Should these experiences be satisfactory examples of professional experience?
I tend to think so! While such positions are typically part-time in nature or for a shorter duration of time, they are held by busy students who have many additional academic and extracirricular commitments. Part-time employment or internship experience should only reflect very favorably on the students who pursue them – as when you consider the hours worked combined with the hours spent in class and preparing homework assignments, these students are usually working MUCH longer than the average 40 hour week. Such a full plate of commitments shows the ability to manage time efficiently and balance multiple commitments – a skill that any employer should be on the look out for in a potential employee!

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