Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This study explores the lived experiences of graduate assistants pursuing a master’s degree in higher education. Graduate assistants now comprise approximately 12% of all postgraduate students in higher education. Thus, this qualitative study seeks to understand graduate assistants’ experiences and support them in honing the quality of their interactions and communication with supervisors (faculty and staff). With dual roles of student and employee, graduate assistants face various challenges and also encounter unique opportunities while pursuing their academic and professional journeys. The field of higher education administration has demonstrated an interest in understanding the experience of entry-level professionals. While there is literature (Dickerson et al., 2011; Kuk, Cobb, & Forrest, 2007; Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008; Waple, 2006) that discusses the master’s student experience, those works mainly focus on graduate students’ academic coursework and accompanying experiences. Thus, there is a need to better understand graduate assistants’ professional experiences and how those experiences shape their personal and professional lives. This explorative study utilizes a modified grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006). Approximately ten participants were interviewed and/or participated in a focus group. Data from the focus groups and individual interviews was triangulated with theoretical sampling techniques and memo writing. The intent of this study is to understand the professional lived experiences of graduate assistants and to use the findings to inform their understanding of how to make the most of their professional role. Five themes emerged from the graduate assistant data: (1) the challenge in navigating the blurred lines of student and professional, (2) their desire to have an interpersonal relationship with their supervisor, (3) their appreciation for autonomy, (4) their difficult transitions, and (5) their ability to connect the dots from their experience.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Alsandor, Danielle



Included in

Education Commons