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Finding an assistantship or a student worker job is the greatest priority of graduate students who get admitted to a university without funding. An assistantship provides fee waiver of some kind in addition to salary.
With a part-time student worker position, one can hope to offset most of the living expenses with a bit of savings towards repayment of loans. It is ideal to get a teaching or research assistantship in the department of your studies but that opportunity may not be available to everyone right from the beginning.
Thus, the first few weeks of stay in the USA is spent in what is commonly called "the hunt" for assistantships and jobs. Scores of new students moving from building to building carrying resumes is a common sight in most campuses during the days prior to beginning of classes.
This article, drawing from the accumulated experience of hundreds of students over the years, provides some broad guidelines to make this process more productive and less frustrating.
1. Have a plan for each day
As with any other activity in life, planning is the fundamental step towards progress. Obtain a good map of your campus. Plan the previous evening itself, the offices and departments to visit the next day. Do not plan to cover more than a handful of departments/buildings in a day. Lot of fruitless walking around will quickly lead to frustration. In states like Texas and Arizona, this is accentuated by the dry heat of peak summer in the months of August.
2. Tailor-make your resume
When you have decided on the departments to cover during the day, try to customise your resume for the positions that might be open there. Highlight your relevant experiences. Make sure that your resume is single page. Remove all irrelevant information. For example, an office with an opening for a webmaster need not know about your swimming prowess.
3. Explore the unexplored
A majority of students limit their searches to familiar departments. It is natural to prefer work at a desk inside a comfy office, but graduate assistant opportunities exists in a wide range of facilities across the campus.
Art galleries, marketing, accounting and financial departments, recreational and sports complexes, food services, campus hospitals, emergencies services, counseling centers, alumni centers etc could all have openings. Libraries are best places for bibliophiles to find a position.
Don't hesitate to knock on any office door that hasn't posted a "No Openings" sign. You never know what could turn out to be life changing opportunities. Every campus has stories about international students who met their mentor professor by accidentally walking into his office in search for any job.
It is also important to not pester any office that has already stated that there are no positions available. Such impolite barging in and soliciting reflects badly on all Indian students and might lead to reduced opportunities for future batches.
Even though you may not find a position, be sure to convert every meeting and introduction into an opportunity to make new friends on the campus. The more people you know and the more they remember you, the higher the chances are that they will let inform you about new openings.
Indian students have the habit of going around in groups during "the hunt". While it is good to have a support group, make sure that you don't get limited to such a group and feed off each other's disappointment. Developing a good network can also help you figure out which positions might soon become open due to current employee graduating.
6. Be proactive
You are the one in need. So dress to impress. Enter every office or lab with the best of your energy and enthusiasm. There have been cases were openings were created just so that the department wouldn't miss out on the smart, impressive student who showed up looking for a job.
Be confident that you can also be stuff of such legends. After all, you are already managed to get admitted into a world class university!
7. Never give up
It is possible that even after landing sufficiently prior to beginning of classes, you remain unable to find a source of funding. While this is not a happy scenario, make sure not to give up hope and search even after regular classes begin.
Keep aside couple of hours every week for the search. Remember that you have to seek these positions out; they are not going to come after you.
8. Help your friends
Once you get a job, help out your friends by informing them about any openings you hear about. This is especially a good deed on your part if one of your roommates is the only one without a job.
Arguments have risen occasionally in the past about rent, groceries, etc. especially when a roommate has financial difficulty on account of not having a job. You don't have to adopt them, but at least be considerate.
Once you get a position, it is important to work to the best of your ability. This is important because a great recommendation from your supervisor can go a long way in getting you into a better job or ultimately land a research or teaching assistantship in your department.
Also remember that, anywhere on the campus, you are by default considered a representative of your country. So it is important to keep up the good name that hardworking, dedicated, and sincere Indian students have built over decades.
The writer is a student at Texas A&M University, USA.
Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on rediff.com.
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