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Choosing your TA's

  1. Dec 3, 2009 #1
    Just wondering how the educators out there or departments choose their teaching asisstants. In my department, if faculty is teaching the course, then they tend to use their own students from their lab. If it's an outside professor, then the faculty professor in charge will probably ask HR to pull some applications for random grad students who are interested.

    There was an available TA position this following quarter for someone to run the labs in a manufacturing course. I had taken the course before and had experience with the lab equipment as well. I sent in an application, but wasn't chosen by the professor. A couple of weeks into the quarter a friend was telling he knows someone in that manufacturing class and the lab is going horrible because the TA doesn't know anything and doesn't know how to use the equipment. Furthermore, the TA could not give any help on the project or even what to do, even though he is in charge of it.

    This got me thinking of some previous courses I took during my undergrad. I remember this major field elective I took during my undergrad, where the TA had never taken the course before. Faculity professor was teaching and the TA told me he did not get a research grant for the quarter, so the professor just asked him to be his TA. Also the most ridiculous thing is that professor stated on the fist day to refer all questions regarding homework to the TA, and all lecture related questions to himself (prof.). Since I usually never bother to ask the TA lecture questions (unless he/she attended lecture as well, rarely this is the case), this was fine, but homework!!

    Another course was this partial differential equations course that was offered a few years ago. I didn't take the course, but friends told me the first recitation, the TA said," I never took the course before, so you'll be learning and I will be as well." The story behind that is that the department had trouble finding a TA for that class. The professor in charge of the course (he wasn't teaching it, but was in charge it) was told by his own phd student not to hire the person he had in mind, because in that phd student's words "he's an idiot, never took course before, don't hire him." The professor hired that guy anyway.

    During my undergrad, I found that most recitations were useless, and only a few TA's were actually helpful.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2009 #2
    Where I go you need to have taken the course with a good grade at least...
  4. Dec 6, 2009 #3


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    Same here, you need to have taken the course with a at least a grade of about 8/10. Of course this doesn't guarantee you are good in explaining/teaching, but you probably have the desired knowledge. I applied for a TA for some course I got a good for, and got accepted. Maybe the fact that I also followed a few more advanced courses helped, but grades is the primary criterion (in my experience, over here).
  5. Dec 6, 2009 #4
    In my case, I always get the feeling that faculty try to fight for the TAs they want the most but it is ultimately up to the chair and administration for who gets who.
  6. Dec 10, 2009 #5


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    When I was a grad student, I don't think anyone got to choose their TAs. I think the department decided who would be funded with TAs and then the dept. chair just shuffled them into the open positions. They did try to place us into courses consistent with our emphasis areas, but that wasn't always possible and then there were a lot of slots for general biology that just needed to be filled.

    On the other hand, where I work now, we don't have ANY TAs. All grad students are supposed to be supported on their mentors' research grants after their first year in the program (and if you don't have research support, you don't get a student). I was VERY LUCKY this semester that two of my former students just wanted some extra teaching experience while finishing up masters degrees, and didn't care if they got paid or not (I ended up giving them course credit), so got two TAs to help out in the big class I teach. Otherwise, I'd probably have had to hang myself by now (I don't know how our dept. chair thinks two faculty could teach over 100 students in a lab when we usually have 4 or 5 faculty teaching that many students in the medical course...and the undergrads need a LOT more attention and guidance).
  7. Dec 12, 2009 #6
    In the places I'm familiar with, TA's are assigned by the department, but the professor can influence the process. Generally first year graduate students are guaranteed TA positions, and once those students have been assigned to courses, other students (i.e. graduate students who are further long in their degree program) can be assigned positions if TA positions are still available.
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