Sine Qua Nonsense

A Primer on Graduate Student Jobs

Indiana University is weird when it comes to graduate students’ jobs. Not only are the titles odd, the definitions are so broad that every department can implement them in their own way. This is probably out of a divide and conquer mentality. The powers that be don’t want students from various units to be able to compare notes on their employment conditions, making students think that comparing an assistantship in Telecom and an assistantship in Political Science is like comparing apples and oranges. Confused employees don’t unionize.

IU also has a few unique job titles. If you are a Student Academic Appointee (SAA), you are either an Associate Instructor or Graduate Assistant. Very rarely, you might be called by the more familiar title of Research Assistant. Each one of these has a deeper, more sinister meaning than you have ever realized.

An Associate Instructor here does what a Teaching Assistant does at other universities. So why the different title? Some will say that an Associate Instructor sounds more important, almost like an Associate Professor. In truth, it is meant to remind you who’s the boss. It is no coincidence that AI also stands for Artificial Intelligence. The instructor of record is an accomplished professional with years of experience and knowledge. You, dear AI, on the other hand, are only faking it. You barely know more than your students, so remember your place in the class hierarchy!

In our department, you can be an AI without actually teaching. If you don’t have to run discussion sections, it is even easier to be artificially intelligent. Just sit in the back, look wise beyond your years, and tackle undergraduates trying to leave as soon as they sign the attendance sheet. If you do a half decent job, you may be recruited to the IU football team. Really, their standards are quite low, from what I understand.

Now we come to the subject of Graduate Assistants and Research Assistants. GAs are internally funded and can have a wide array of duties, like helping to develop course curricula or departmental websites. RAs, on the other hand, work on research and are externally funded. In other words, RAs are the ones who are working for the government or big corporations. Spying on the rest of us is part of their job description, written in disappearing ink in their SAA contract. In fact, GA and RA truly stand for Gullible Academic and Reconnaissance Agent.

So, what kind of SAA am I? The other day I purchased a clicker, a magic wand to remotely advance slides. This was a sign that after two years of being a Gullible Academic, I am now an Artificial Intelligence. It is a step up from the last time I was in this position, back in my very qualitative MA program teaching an undergraduate statistics class as a TA (Total Amateur).


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