5 Spectacular Ways to Express Your Appreciation for Graduate Assistants

If you supervise a graduate assistant, then you hopefully know how rewarding it can be to guide them in developing their unique professional identity.

As with our undergraduate employees and our professional colleagues, it’s important to also let GAs know how much we appreciate their contributions to both the department and the institution as a whole.

The following ideas can help you express your appreciation for your GAs any time of year.

Caffeine & Snacks

It’s no secret that between their classes, research projects, assistantships, and personal lives, GAs are extremely busy.

So, consider giving your graduate assistant the boost that they need to make it through their evening classes or get up in the morning with…. the gift of caffeine! You could give them a gift card to a coffee shop or their preference of coffee beans, k-cups, hot cocoa mix, or loose leaf tea.

Being busy all of the time also means that graduate assistants often eat at odd hours. Give yours some healthy snacks that they can stash in their desk or take with them to avoid a grumbling stomach. Popcorn, chip alternatives, granola bars, trail mix, and protein bars can all be nutritious choices. Just don’t forget to keep in mind your GA’s allergies or dietary restrictions.

If there is a farmers market nearby, find out if the organizers or individual vendors offer gift certificates. That way, you can give your GA the gift of fresh food while supporting local businesses.

Writing

Graduate school requires a lot of writing, most of which is probably done on your GA’s personal laptop. You can help keep that laptop in tip-top shape with an assortment of cleaning products, such as microfiber cloths, screen cleaning sprays, and dust brushes or canned air for the keyboard.

It would be awful if an accident or malfunction rendered a student’s digital documents unusable, especially if the GA is working on an extensive research project. A physical backup drive or a subscription to a cloud backup service is a great gift that might save the day.

Or, if your graduate assistant journals or simply prefers to take course notes on paper, they may appreciate a leather-bound notebook.

Notes & Collages

Thank-you notes from yourself, other professional staff in the office, and your undergraduate student employees can accompany any item on this list. A way to make the thank-you notes extra impactful is to highlight the GA’s specific projects and accomplishments that contributed to the department.

Another idea is to create a collage of photos that your graduate assistant will find meaningful. You could include photos of events the GA planned, a group shot of the GA’s favorite students, or photos of you and the GA. Have everyone write their messages or appreciation on the collage, then frame it in the office, the student’s home, or in another special campus post.

Career Support

Successful graduate assistants will eventually earn their master’s degrees and go on to full-time careers. You can help them start their journeys off strong by assisting with their full-time job search.

A good way to show your appreciation is to serve as a mock interviewer who gives high-quality feedback.

You could schedule thirty-minute blocks each week to mock interview your graduate assistant or pose a different interview question to them every day and offer constructive feedback. You might want to focus on questions that are specific to the functional area that they are interested in and leave the broader questions to a mock interview conducted by a career counselor — unless, of course, you are a career counselor yourself!

You can create your own rubric to evaluate the interview or use this comprehensive template.

To prepare your GA for their actual interviews, find out if they need a padfolio. You can opt to give them a gift card so that they can pick a padfolio that best fits their style. Business cards could compliment the padfolio or serve as a stand-alone gift. Many websites that allow customers to design their own business cards also offer gift certificates.

Additionally, as their supervisor, you should know their qualifications well. So, why not take the time to write them a recommendation on LinkedIn? HubSpot has a guide to get you started.

Many books could also prove useful for a new professional’s career planning. Here are some book ideas, all of which would make wonderful gifts:

  • The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career by Sonja Ardoin
  • Beginning Your Journey A Guide for New Professionals in Student Affairs by Marilyn Amey
  • Job One 2.0: Understanding the Next Generation of Student Affairs Professionals by Peter Magolda and Jill Carnaghi
  • Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs by Brian Reece, Vu Tran, Elliott DeVore, and Gabby Porcaro
  • Creating Sustainable Careers in Student Affairs: What Ideal Worker Norms Get Wrong and How to Make It Right by Margaret Sallee and Kristen Renn
  • Books by the Student Affairs Collective

Wellness

While it is important to encourage graduate assistants to practice self-care, it’s up to you as their supervisor to make sure that they have the time and resources to do so. This might mean being flexible with their work schedule, such as allowing them to leave the office early or arrive late so that they can engage in a self-care activity.

You could also get them something for their office that encourages relaxation — such as a low-maintenance plant, a handmade sensory jar, or another idea from this post.

If you are looking for some more appreciation ideas to compliment these graduate assistant-specific ones, here are additional resources that may inspire your gift-giving:

Hopefully, you’ve found at least one idea from this list that is a perfect fit for your GA. But, however you end up showing your appreciation, what’s most important is that your graduate assistant finds it personally meaningful.

How else have you expressed your appreciation for your GAs? We’d love to hear your ideas! Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence and @JustinTerlisner.

Justin Terlisner

About the author: Justin Terlisner is a student affairs professional who focuses on helping students thrive through dynamic leadership education and inclusive supervision practices. When not writing curriculum or working with students, you’ll find him enjoying a book, hiking, or baking. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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