The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

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When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.


Assistantship- An assistantship is an agreement a graduate student makes to work part time for a university in exchange for tuition, a stipend, and benefits.

Fellowship- A fellowship is similar to a scholarship or grant, but may go beyond paying tuition, to cover other school related and living expenses for a student. Unlike an assistantship, a student on a fellowship (called a fellow) usually does not have to work for the university as part of their fellowship agreement. Depending on the field and university, fellowships can be very competitive and difficult to obtain, but they do provide a unique opportunity for students to focus more solely on their education.

Graduate Assistant (GA)- Although used by many as a catch-all term for students with assistantships, graduate assistant more specifically refers to a student with an assistantship that works on something other than research or teaching. GAs may provide support to the university administration, athletics, residence halls, libraries, or other parts of the university.

Postdoc (Post Doctoral Scholar) – A postdoc is a person who is working on research for a limited period of time after they finish their doctoral degree. Postdoctoral research may be funded by a fellowship or grant, and depending on the field may be an important step along the way to an academic career.

Practicum- A practicum is a period of time where a student is working in their field of study under the supervision of a professional in that field. It usually happens prior to graduation (as opposed to a residency, which may occur after graduation). Practicums are most common in education and medical fields.

Research Assistant (RA) – A research assistant is a student with an assistantship whose work duties are tied to a specific research project or laboratory. RAs may be assigned to a single faculty member or group of faculty members whom they assist with research. RAs do not usually teach or perform duties outside of their research assignment.

Residency- A residency is a time period where a graduate student is working in their profession, under supervision of an advisor. It may occur after graduation and licensure, but is still considered part of the student’s required education. This is most common in medical fields.

Teaching Assistant (TA) – A teaching assistant is a student with an assistantship whose work duties include either teaching courses or assisting a faculty member with course related duties. Some TAs (usually in PhD programs) will teach courses on their own (known as being the teacher of record), while others may teach lab sections related to the lecture led by a faculty member, and other may provide tutoring or grading support for courses.





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