Niagara University is, by all measures, an exceedingly supportive school when it comes to financial opportunities for graduate and doctoral students. However, even with generous assistance, it was still going to be very difficult for me to attend the school when I began my doctoral program.
That all changed when I applied for a research assistant position. In fact, the benefits of the position were twofold: Not only did the position make it financially feasible for me to attend Niagara, but I also had the opportunity to work on original research as part of the position’s responsibilities.
First and foremost, being a research assistant has been a great learning experience. Of course, I have gained a far greater understanding of my area of study (my research is focused on charter schools, which have been expanding throughout the U.S., and will likely grow more aggressively in the next few years).
I have also been afforded the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be an instructor. Working one-on-one with faculty, I had an inside look at what it takes to plan classes, grade papers and still continue to work on original studies. This insider’s view allowed me to see just how hard our professors work at NU to serve students and their field (and, consequently, I learned how important those teacher evaluations actually are, and how the professors really take them seriously and work toward using the feedback to improve their classes). At Niagara University, the faculty members truly strive to provide the best education they can for doctoral candidates (and all students).
Further, in academia, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the ability to speak publicly and present and discuss research. Going to academic seminars to present research papers was an entirely new experience to me, one which I would have never engaged in so frequently had it not been for my research assistant position. There is a very unique “business” to higher education, which was largely unknown to me until I worked as a research assistant.
Studying at the university has been an amazing endeavor, but it is, in many ways, a very different environment than my “real-world” workplace experiences. Fortunately, as a research assistant, I also had the opportunity to learn transferable skills that are directly connected to the professional world: skills regarding the importance and the practice of grant writing, budgeting, meeting timelines to get documentation submitted, and the process of submitting papers to journals. This is real-world experience that will be invaluable as I move forward.
Thus, I would strongly encourage anyone who has the time, the need and the ambition to apply for a research assistantship. Not only will you incur less debt while you are in graduate school, but you will also immerse yourself more deeply in your area of study. You will learn more and you will meaningfully build your resume and expand your expertise.