by Anastasia Chiu, MSLIS
5 Ways to Maximize Your Graduate Assistantship Experience
ALA recently announced its new Opportunities Exchange search interface for the Financial Assistance for Library and Information Studies Directory, allowing library school students and applicants to find ways to fund their studies more easily. Many of the opportunities listed in FALIS are assistantships, either for service in university libraries or for research and administration in LIS or other university departments. Hopefully, many of the newly admitted LIS students who will matriculate in the fall have won some of those assistantships. My own degree was funded by a graduate assistantship in my university library, and I considered it a double-windfall, since it granted full tuition remission and gave me the opportunity to gain work experience in both technical and public services in an academic library.
Looking back, there are a few things that I’m proud of having done as a GA, and a few that I wish I had thought of before completing the assistantship. From the 20/20-hindsight perspective, here are five ways to maximize a graduate assistantship experience:
1) Don’t hesitate to let your supervisors know what aspects of the library or department’s work you’d like to explore. You may feel awkward asking for anything when you’ve already been given the boon of tuition remission or a stipend, but you’re not just there to work off your debts; you’re also there to get valuable experience as a professional and a scholar, and your supervisors know that. At best, you’ll get a chance to explore an aspect of librarianship that you’re curious about. At worst, there’s nothing for you to do in the department you’ve asked to work in, but you’ve put yourself forward for consideration for future needs.
2) Seek chances to participate in research and publication, especially if you are pursuing academic librarianship. If something that you are working on is part of someone’s research or effort to innovate, this is your chance to get in on the action. Don’t just watch open-mouthed; offer to help! If you’re lucky enough to end up as a co-author of a published paper on the work you did, that could be key to getting hired in an academic library post-grad, especially if you don’t have a second advanced degree yet.
3) Take your special projects home with you. You probably work for a set number of hours per week, so you may not see much incentive in investing your free time. After all, you have class work and, y’know, life to do. But giving your first special project the extra time and attention it needs is often what gets you more meaty projects, and those are what ultimately make you a better librarian and researcher.
4) Volunteer to help committees and working groups, even if you’re not sure if you’re allowed to as an assistant. You might be told that the group you’re interested in is closed to non-faculty or to further participants. On the other hand, you might also be welcomed with open arms and get great managerial experience by participating in the committee or working group’s decision-making and strategic planning.
5) Even if your assistantship covers full tuition, pursue scholarships anyway. It’s tempting to just sit back once you’ve got the news that the cost of your education is taken care of, but scholarships are not just money. They look great on your résumé as honors, and some are applicable to textbooks and board, which assistantships don’t usually cover. Not to mention, if the cost of your tuition is actually drawn from the budget of the department you work in, you will only gain points for costing the department less to hire and maintain.
Good luck to the Fall 2014 LIS cohort!
Anastasia Chiu is a recent graduate of St. John’s University’s Division of Library and Information Science, where she focused her studies on information architecture and metadata for digital resources. She was born and raised in California, went to college in Connecticut, and moved to New York City in 2009. As an MSLIS student, she completed a graduate assistantship in St. John’s’ Queens campus library and an internship at the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library; she is currently on the hunt for academic and public library jobs. Her main interests are: cataloging, reference & instruction, and open access to scholarly communications. In her free time, she enjoys vegetarian cooking and playing flute and piano. Find her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/