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Being a TA just for grad school

  1. May 10, 2008 #1
    I am an undergraduate math major. Does it make sense to be a TA even if I don't need the money? I am asking because I want to get into the best mathematics grad school possible. At my school, being a mathematics TA basically means grading tests and homework assignments. It is kind of tedious work, so I don't want to do it unless its something grad schools really look for.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2008 #2


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    I don't think you need it for grad school, I mean what that they look is at grades first a foremost and afterwards for letters of recommendations, at least that is my impression from scouring the net.
  4. May 10, 2008 #3


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    I'm not sure how much it matters for graduate admission...
    ...but here's some positive things about doing it.

    You get some experience in being a TA, which you might be for part of your time in grad school. So, you may have a [slight] competitive edge for that.

    You may become more conscientious about students and how they learn and what misconceptions they have. This could get you thinking about "teaching", which could be a useful skill to develop towards an academic career. "One way to really learn something is to teach it." Certainly, it would be better to be teaching in front of the class rather than behind the scenes as a grader.... but I guess one has to start somewhere. (This aspect is something that, I think, many graduate students don't consider until later in their careers if at all... since "teaching" is often not on the mind of the graduate student... until one is looking for a faculty position.)

    While it might be a good thing to do... don't overdo it... and don't do it instead of learning more advanced math.
    Last edited: May 10, 2008
  5. May 10, 2008 #4
    I graded homework as an undergrad, it was a good experience. Tedious work, but only a few hours a week. It's not going to make you better prepared for grad school, but it does help on your resume/CV show your commitment to all areas of academia and not just class work. Ditto for doing summer research projects.
  6. May 10, 2008 #5

    Dr Transport

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    It re-exposes you to your lower level courses, how can this not make you better prepared for grad school. When I was in grad school, the people who had the hardest time getting thru their qualifiers were the people who didn't TA, they just couldn't remember how to set up problems from scratch.
  7. May 10, 2008 #6
    My grad school program didn't have quals, so I lucked out. Anyway I just don't find grading homework that instructive. Now tutoring, and being a real TA-- recitation and lab TA where you have to explain to students how to solve problems, set up labs, interpret results etc that was a very good learning experience.
  8. May 10, 2008 #7


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    Very true!

    I've been a TA for two years now. I get lots and lots of questions, which range from... "I want an integral that has this kind of thing in it because I need to practice that.", "I want more Taylor Series examples.", to "I'd like to do an example of optimization using trig functions."

    Of course, you scan through a textbook and maybe find out AND hope they haven't done that one. I prefer to just make one up. It sounds easy, but sometimes they don't come out right and you learn how to adjust problem making to allow "nice" solutions.

    Note: I just realized that you aren't talking about creating problems. Anyways, it also helped me create problems in the courses that I'm in also, which is very important when the textbook has little to offer or you have NO textbook.
  9. May 10, 2008 #8
    Yes, if it were an opportunity to interact with the students through recitations or whatever I would be much more interested.
  10. May 10, 2008 #9
    Then you'll probably like tutoring if you're not doing it already, I also did that as an undergrad and that was rewarding.
  11. May 12, 2008 #10
    I fully agree with the people who have pointed out the positive aspects of being a TA. I just finished my first year of TAing. It sucks, you get seriously ticked off when students don't understand simple things because they've been goofing off instead of studying, and sometimes you want to kill them (well that was me, anyway). But teaching is a lot of fun anyway, and it reminds you about all those simple concepts that show up on graduate level exams and qualifiers.

    But to be practical for a moment, my department requires all graduate students to teach a full year of recitation as part of getting our PhDs. So at the end of the day the question of how helpful it is becomes moot for us: we either teach or we don't graduate. I wouldn't worry about it Ehrenfest, TAing isn't the worst thing in the world. Some of us love it, some don't like it, but it won't kill you or anything.
  12. May 12, 2008 #11
    I just wanted to bring up something that might have been missed-- Ehrenfest confused being a reader with being a TA. He wants to know if it's worthwhile to grade homework and tests.
  13. May 12, 2008 #12
    At my school the definition of a TA includes someone who grades homework and tests.
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