What it is like to TA as a Grad Student

So, this is a graduate student focused post, but also for those of you interested in being a grad student some day. Almost all graduate school programs require some teaching as a TA, and many require it for you to receive funding. My program here at Cornell requires 1 semester of TAing, but more can be done to supplement for funding needs.

I am TAing the laboratory in Genetics and Genomics course, which is a 2 hour, 2 credit course that meets once a week and is a supplement to what students learn in Genetics Lecture. For both the students and the TAs, the course ends up being much more than just 2 hours weekly.

TAing for the grad student very much becomes a balancing act where you have responsibilities to your graduate research and lab, the students of your lab, and administrative grading and planning. It can be a very difficult and delicate balance.

My typical week of TA responsibilities begins with a 3-4 hour TA planning meeting on Monday morning. Tuesday is spent looking over the material and planning the lab lecture, as well as grading any lab reports or quizzes from the previous week. Also, every few weeks there is an additional Tuesday evening TA planning meeting, when a big assignment is coming up. Then, I hold office hours Wednesday morning and assistant teach the lab course for 2 hours in the afternoon. Depending on what assignments are due that particular week, there can be a full office of students with questions or none. Then, Thursday I teach the course for two hours in the afternoon. Most days I will also be responding to emails from my students with questions about the material or assignments.

Now remember all of this is in conjunction with required seminars for my program and various meetings, as well as research progress. Luckily, I am not taking any required graded courses this semester but some TAs end up having that as well. 

This all can be manageable with the proper support from your lab members and the professor of the course you are TAing, but I definitely didn’t know what to expect before I started TAing. 

So, my suggestion to you future TAs out there is to try to do your TAship in a semester where you are not taking a huge load of courses and where you are not working on your A-Exam (if you have a choice on timing). Also embrace working with the students, because this can be a fun part of TAing. Sometimes grad students get so isolated from the campus and stay in their particular lab so much that they forget about all that goes on in undergraduate life. This is a chance to get reacquainted with the rest of the campus. Enjoy!


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