How to Succeed as Graduate Teaching Assistant?

As a graduate student, at some point of your grad school life, you will work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). By definition, a GTA is a qualified graduate student who helps a professor to conduct lab, mentor study groups, grade homework and sometimes teach classes on their own if required. The great thing of being a GTA is that you will gain experience in various tasks which will be a part of your future responsibilities to manage if you work as a faculty in academia.

Why it is great to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant?:

Many graduate programs require you to serve as a TA for one year or more during your education. If you are a PhD student, then most likely you will start your grad life as a TA. The TA position comes up with two benefits — first, your tuition fess will be waived and you will get a monthly salary. Second, it provides you with university level teaching experience, and also you will have the chance to interact with undergrad students as a mentor.

Most TAs put in about 20 hours per week. As a TA you have to maintain your own course load while maintaining TA duties. Sometimes, it can be tough to make a balance between your course load and your TA duties. Therefore, a TA enjoys reduced course load — whereas a regular graduate student has to take 9 credit hours minimum, a TA can take only 6 credits.

Becoming a Graduate Teaching Assistant:

If you are first year PhD student, and got funding from the department, then in most of the cases, you will be working as a TA. While applying to grad school, some schools require you to submit an extra application for the TA position, and you must submit that application. In your later years of your grad life, your advisor might ask you to work as a TA for him/her if required. Other than that, the department might circulate the position internally, and call for formal application. The applicants will have to go through an extensive selection and interview process. Once accepted, a TA has to attend the TA orientation program and undergo the required training.

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Responsibilities of a Graduate Teaching Assistant:

“Grading and Conducting Lab Class”- these two are the major responsibilities of any TA. You will grade homework each week, and this work load will vary largely based on the class sizes. Usually, professor gives you the solution of the assigned problems that you will be grading, but in worst case scenario you have to prepare the solutions by your own which will eat up a lot of time.

The next big thing is to conduct a lab class. You might be asked to prepare the instruction manuals, demonstrate the experiment, assist undergrad students in doing labs, grade their lab report etc. etc.

Other than that, you have to conduct office hours weekly. You should be prepared to answer student questions, tutor in subjects being taught, and handle any student issues or problems.

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Tips to be a successful Graduate Teaching Assistant:

  • Choose your office hours wisely. You definitely would not like to conduct your office hours just before you go to your own class, or don’t want to kill your most productive times during a day.
  • Grad carefully — if you take out points please make sure that you write down an explanation about that. If you the students don’t find any sort of explanation, then in the next class they will surely ask the professor, and which is not entertaining to the professor. The professor have hired you as a TA for a purpose, and you need to serve him/her properly. If you do not care to give a proper feedback to students, then you will simply be fired from this job.
  • Communicate properly with the students — undergrad students will shoot a lot of emails regarding their graded homework, lab reports, assignments. Just let them know you got their email and you will solve the issue ASAP.

Communication is the key — to be a successful TA, there is no other way around it. That’s why you will see that big schools always set a minimum score in the speaking section of the language test, that you must fulfill. Though a TA position is rewarding, but it’s not for everyone. Are you excited to stand in front of class, or teach a undergrad student something new, or would the pressure of TA detract from your own course and research work? Your attitude towards the responsibilities will decide whether you will be successful or not.

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