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The benefits of being a graduate research teaching assistant

A graduate research teaching assistant (GRTA) position offers postgraduate researchers the chance to grow their skills and expand their horizons. Dr Kirsty Devaney, once a GRTA herself, provides some valuable advice. 

A young lecturer teaching a university class.

What is a GRTA?

GRTAs are postgraduate research students who support academic and faculty staff members with their teaching and research responsibility.

As a GRTA, you may help a lecturer teach students, review papers and also carry out various administrative tasks, such as room bookings. It may also involve you working on research bids or collecting data for existing funded research projects.

If your university allows for it, you may even teach your own class independently. However, there is a wide range of duties and opportunities for GRTAs, particularly here at Birmingham City University.

More than a research degree

A GRTA position, for me, presented an opportunity to not just do a doctorate – it provided a chance to be an active member of staff within BCU’s research community.

This offered me a wide variety of exciting opportunities, including:

  • Supporting teaching and lecturing;
  • Marking assessments;
  • Organising internal conferences and research events;
  • Administrative roles such as running the department research blog or social media account(s);
  • Data collection for existing funded projects in the department;
  • Co-writing reports with more senior members of staff.

This allowed me to develop vital skills and experiences of what a career in academia might look like.

If you’re interested in a GRTA role, remember it doesn’t just have to entail teaching. You can talk to your line manager about what skills you’d like to develop and how to get a breadth of experiences during your contract.

I am working as a research assistant in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences, but lecturing is still a part of my responsibilities, therefore it is important to gain experience and develop your teaching abilities.

Finding ways to include your PhD research into your teaching is a great way to put research into practice. 

Expanding your experience and expertise

To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for at the start!

I came from studying a practical undergraduate degree in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, and was working as a music educator and composer when the position was suggested to me.

I didn’t completely know what it would involve, but it sounded exciting and there was no way I could have done a PhD without the financial support that a GRTA position provides.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunity - it has opened so many doors for me.

Although it felt like being thrown in at the deep end sometimes, the GRTA position allowed me to expand my experience and expertise. This meant that once I finished my PhD I had plenty of things to add to my CV!

Consider your aims and ambitions

Strategically consider what you want from the GRTA position. What are the areas you feel you knowing nothing about, so to learn more about? Where do your strengths lie? What are your long-term career goals?

Having open conversations with your supervisors and line manager about this can ensure that you get the most of your role.