Getting paid to learn from the masters

Ayers Hall at the University of Tennessee. By Gragghia at en.wikipedia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ayers Hall at the University of Tennessee. By Gragghia at en.wikipedia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I was sorry to see my semester as a graduate assistant at the McClung Museum come to an end.  It was a fantastic gig at a great institution with wonderful people, and reminded me how much I enjoy museum work.  I’m hoping I end up back there before my career as a Ph.D. student runs out.

Still, being a teaching assistant again has its perks.  What I love most about it isn’t so much being a teacher as being a learner.  Because TAs attend the professor’s lectures in addition to conducting the weekly discussion sections, we’re basically getting paid to learn from top-notch scholars.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, especially when you consider that most students have to pay or take out loans to take these courses.

And since graduate students usually get a new TA assignment every semester, we get to see the survey courses taught from a variety of different perspectives and using multiple approaches.  By the time we finish our degrees, we might sit through both halves of American history, world history, or Western Civ twice from beginning to end, hearing a new professor’s take on the material each time.  I doubt any other group of people in the world gets the benefit of such a wide-ranging education in history as we’re able to get just by showing up for work.

Graduate school can be grueling.  There’s no doubt about that.  But those of us who are able to work as apprentices to great professors should remember how lucky we are.

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