Saturday, October 16, 2010

1/6 TA

In the spring I was the TA for a graduate class my advisor teaches. I didn't need it for funding reasons, but all PhD students are strongly encouraged to TA at least once. I thought I was done with TAing for my graduate career.

My advisor also teaches an undergraduate class. Normally I have no interaction with this class, and in fact I was barely aware that he taught it. I assume he teaches, there is a TA who TAs, the students learn, grades are assigned, and on life rolls.

This semester apparently there was a hiccup in the system. Because the undergrad class is not very much work for the TA (or at least someone decided it wasn't much work), the TA position was downgraded from a full-time TA to a half-time TA.

Then they couldn't find anybody to TA the undergrad class. Usually grad students TA because they have no funding through their research, and they need the pay. Hardly anybody has half-funding from research, and would therefore be looking for half-pay from a half-time TA. And nearly nobody can afford to take half-pay only with no other funding.

So my advisor was in a bit of a bind.

What he did was this: he decided that himself and the lab instructor would write the homework assignments and do the grading instead of a TA, (which is a sacrifice on his part because that takes time). And then he asked his students (three of us, including me) to be the TAs for the class. Because there is no longer any grading we have to do, that just means we have to cover the laboratory sessions during the week.

So I am a 1/6 TA. I'm sharing a 1/2 TA between three of us students.

I have no idea how my advisor is handling the funding paperwork - all of us have funding through our research and don't need the TA pay. I suspect the class officially doesn't have a TA, and we are just moonlighting. I'm certainly not being paid extra. :)

What this means in practice for me is that every third week, I have four lab sessions to supervise. The lab instructor takes care of coming up with the lab exercises, and I just help the undergrad students with any questions or issues that arise during lab time.

Normally I get into the office late in the morning, and the afternoon is my main productive time. It's a bit of a pain to have two entire afternoons (and practically, this means two days) gone out of my week. Also a pain because one of those days I normally have class, so I have to skip the class. But it's only every third week that I have to lose those two days, and only every sixth class I miss.

I view this as part of my graduate duties, and my responsibility to my advisor. But when I mention this to others, their reaction is usually that this is an unfair burden.

So what say you? Do you think this method is unfair to me and the other two students? I certainly like this better than having one unlucky student ordered to be the TA. If you were my advisor, how would you have handled it?

1 comment:

  1. I think it's unfair, but it's also pretty common from what I know. Even if he wasn't your advisor, I know grad students who've been asked to "moonlight" in this manner for other professors who might be on their committee or something like that. It's good teaching experience sure, but kind of a bummer they can't give you the TA half-time pay instead.