The Graduate Work Spotlight Series features graduate students and their various work-study projects assigned to them across the academic year. Not only does AU’s College of Arts and Science offer students a variety of work experiences relevant to professional success in their field of study, but the financial support to complete their degree in a nurturing and timely manner. While there are many roles on offer for graduate students in the College, the art history department engages a select number of graduate students each semester to work closely with faculty members as either a Graduate Research Assistant or a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Research Assistants provide support to professors working on independent research, print and book manuscripts, and/or digital publications, while Teaching Assistants provide support to faculty teaching undergraduate-level courses, and are often tasked with constructing class powerpoint presentations, holding office hours and student study sessions, leading field trips, and on occasion, teaching classes.
Taylor Curry (a second-year MA student in the art history department) is a Research Assistant to Dr. Andrea Pearson for the 2019-2020 academic year. Prior to and during this role, Taylor served as a Teaching Assistant to Dr. Joanne Allen. For this feature, Taylor shares her experiences and insights on what it is like to work with art history faculty members in these two different capacities.
When asked if she preferred one position over the other, Curry replied, “I don’t prefer one over the other! They are both so different and allow me to utilize different skill sets.” Curry enjoyed the back-to-basics of working as a graduate teaching assistant and interacting with undergraduate students. “As a TA, I love learning about new works of art and topics that I did not study in my undergraduate classes. I also learned more about works I’ve previously studied as Dr. Allen taught these works in a new way.” In her research assistant position, Curry has the opportunity to watch a large research project grow. “As a research assistant, I help Dr. Pearson, along with second year graduate student Alaina Hendrickson, on a new, interactive digital research project. Alaina and I have both been able to have a large impact on the project and help Dr. Pearson make decisions. Now we are starting to see it coming together which is really exciting.”
Curry elaborated on her responsibilities in these positions. In addition to answering student emails, holding office hours, taking notes on the class proceedings, and expanding her own teaching skills, Curry helped research for the class. “The introductory class I TA-ed for was new, so I helped Dr. Allen research and make her Powerpoints for each class. It was such a fun way to refresh my memory on works, learn about new artworks, and also learn in a more hands-on way how to introduce these topics to young students who have never interacted with them.” While Taylor’s research position allowed her the opportunity to research a topic outside of her own academic research and interests: “For Dr. Pearson, we are looking at religious communities in and around Belgium and the Netherlands. It is really interesting finding these preserved sites that still exist and those that have been completely destroyed or repurposed–it really brings Renaissance art history into modern-day society in a way other than a museum collection or something like that.”
For any future and current art history graduate students who would like an opportunity to work as either a Teaching or Research Assistant in the future, Taylor recommends requesting the job in advance of your work-study assignment: “That’s how I got my position as a TA!” She also recommends that students glean the most they can out of these positions. “I don’t treat either as a job but more as a class where I have an opportunity to learn about something completely different than learning how to write a paper or something. Also, be open to new opportunities. I never thought I would have the opportunity to TA or that I would like it and it has been one of my favorite experiences at AU so far.”
“A lot of Master’s programs elsewhere don’t have opportunities for EVERYONE to TA or RA, and I think that is such an incredible opportunity at AU,” says Curry. “It is such an amazing way to learn about real world experiences as an art historian and also allows us to develop relationships with our professors and mentors outside of the student/teacher one developed in the classroom.”
Thank you to Taylor for chatting with us, and thanks to the art history department and CAS for making these graduate work study opportunities available!