Q & A About Chemistry Teaching Assistantships

Q:        Who gets Teaching Assistantships (TA) and for how long?

A:        Full-time graduate students are eligible for TA’s. Since there is a fixed number of assistantships available to the department each year, these are awarded on a competitive basis. A Master’s student is entitled to TA support for two years and a Ph.D. student for four years provided that she or he has shown satisfactory performance both academically and in the teaching lab.

Q:        How do I balance TA duties and my coursework?

A:        This will be one of the greatest continuing sources of difficulty for you. You have to wear two hats – you’re an instructor and you’re a student. These roles entail conflicting demands. You will have to become adept at budgeting your time. How well you respond to this challenge is part of your professional growth.

Q:        What is expected of a TA?

A:        Specific duties will vary from course to course and may depend on the desires of the faculty member in charge, but included may be: lab supervision, lab report grading, exam quiz proctoring or grading, lab lecture presentation, lab equipment or reagent preparation, help sessions and TA meetings. You are expected to discharge your duties responsibly and professionally. The bottom line is that you have been hired by your students to assist faculty in providing those students an excellent education. If you are inattentive to this mission, your TA support may be terminated.

Q:        What type of behavior is professional?

A:        Examples:       

  • Participating in TA meetings
  • Seeking to do your share
  • Trying to resolve lab problems (e.g. experiments gone awry)
  • Ensuring that the lab is safe. For example, enforcing the safety regulation of wearing safety goggles and toed (non open toed/sandals) shoes, etc.
  • Accommodating your schedule (within reason) to that of the faculty supervisor and your students.

Q:        What is not professional?

A:        Examples:

  • Failure to keep appointments
  • Ignoring lab problems and letting “someone else” do it.
  • Being unprepared for your lab section, grading, etc.
  • Unannounced absences
  • Uncooperativeness
  • Not turning in your corrected lab grades in a timely manner

Q:        How is an unsatisfactory TA performance handled?

A:        Mal-performance is handled using the same procedure as a university employee, including appeal through the university grievance procedure. Initially, the course faculty supervisor will resolve problems. Persistent unsatisfactory TA performance will be brought to the attention of the Undergraduate Coordinator, Graduate Coordinator, and research mentor in writing for follow-up action. The departmental Executive Committee can terminate TA support under certain situations. Gross ethical or safety violations may result in immediate removal of a TA from his/her duties.

Q:        When do TA duties begin and end each semester?

A:        When you have been assigned to a course, you should immediately contact the faculty member in charge. Your assistance may be required before the semester officially begins and continues until you are released by the supervisory faculty member (normally after course grades have been submitted). If you have experience in one of the advanced labs (407, 518, 550, 685, 686, 756, 763, 775, 776), you may be called on to guide inexperienced TA’s in those labs even if you have another assignment or are supported by a research assistantship.

Q:        Do we get paid in the summer?

A:        There are opportunities to obtain summer funding through competitive fellowships such as the CEPS Summer TA fellowship and the Graduate School Summer. Additional opportunities for being funded by a grant or being a TA for summer courses exist. The department of Chemistry may also have additional awards to provide summer funding.

Q:        What are our summer duties?

A:        Don’t make any time commitments until you determine your summer TA schedule. If you are not asked to TA in the summer, it is assumed that thesis research will be your prime concern for the entire summer and/or the grant-funded research as an RA.. You should make arrangements with your research advisor regarding potential summer vacation time.

Q:        When do we get paid?

A:        Your pay period is biweekly and begins in late August with the academic year through late May. The Manager will inform you via email of the dates and academic yearly amounts. Summer is different as the pay scale is based on 13 weeks and is also on the biweekly schedule. The Manager via email will also convey these dates and amounts to you. Please note the summer stipend amount is typically less that the amount received during the academic year, so plan accordingly.

Q:        What if I don’t finish in time?

A:        Your TA stipend is no longer guaranteed, but the department usually has a small number of TA positions available for students in good standing who are finishing their thesis work. The awarding of these positions is dependent on departmental course needs and the number of eligible students.

Q:        Who makes the TA assignments?

A:        It is the duty of the TA Coordinator to make TA assignments after consultation with the faculty. Students with strong preferences for certain courses are encouraged to contact the TA Coordinator beforehand. The final assignments, however, will be made with consideration of departmental course needs, faculty preferences, as well as the student’s past teaching duties.

Q:       Why aren’t TA assignments more equitable?

A:        We try our best, but it is simply not possible to give every TA an equal assignment in the same semester. Because of demands to maintain continuity or to handle large course enrollments, it is sometimes necessary to repeat a heavy TA assignment. Note that both the TA Coordinator and the faculty are fully aware of who is carrying the heavier loads and will do their best to adjust future assignments accordingly. For example, TA’s with heavy assignments will most likely be excused form summer teaching duties. In the long run, it is also important to note that the more challenging assignments are usually the most valuable for the TA’s who want to acquire teaching skills.

Q:        How is excellence in a TA recognized by the department?

A:        Faculty and student evaluations of a TA’s performance are routinely used by the faculty in the writing of letters of recommendation. Recognition of excellence in teaching assistantship is made at the Department of Chemistry Annual Awards Ceremony held in May.

Q:        How can I improve my instructional abilities?

A:        There will be an orientation session early each fall for the new TA’s to help you get started. We are planning several subsequent sessions during the first semester to give all TA’s a chance to discuss problems and ideas with faculty. The American Chemical Society booklets, “Handbook for Teaching Assistant” and “Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories” are also available to new TA’s. For other instructional opportunities, please contact Dr. Chris Bauer, Professor and TA Coordinator.

Q:        Who is in charge of the lab course?

A:        The faculty member or lab coordinator assigned to teach the course is in charge. Your responsibility and authority will probably vary depending on the course and your teaching experience, but the instructor has the final say on all course matters and is ultimately responsible for the smooth functioning of the course.

Q:        Whom should I turn to if I have problems associated with my TA duties?

A:        The faculty in charge of the course should be your most direct source of advice and help. If you don’t feel that is appropriate, then contact the TA Coordinator. If the problems affect your academic performance, the Graduate Coordinator and your research mentor may also be contacted.