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I am entering my senior year of undergraduate study in Computer Science at a small, primarily undergraduate institution. I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a PhD in Computer Science and Mathematics, my main goal to teach. The school I attend is quite small, and is all but unknown outside our geographic region. As such, I've attempted to add as many positive bullets to my CV as possible, mainly because I feel I will have to fight harder than my colleagues at larger universities to get into a great program.

One of the things I have attempted to add to my vita is teaching experience. I have had the opportunity to tutor in our Mathematics Tutoring Center for a couple years now, and have fallen in love. I have also had the pleasure of assisting a professor in her Freshmen CS labs. Last fall I spoke with her about increasing my duties to more than just fielding questions as the students type their programs. I wanted to start grading lab submissions, and perhaps even hold office hours. She was delighted that I wanted the increased responsibility, but sharply objected to calling it a "TA" position.

Is there a stigma of assigning the title TA to an undergraduate?

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    It really should be emphasized that this is not a universal thing. Both my (admittedly large and well known) grad and undergrad institutions treat grads and undergrads perfectly equally with respect to titles. There may be a pay difference, but it doesn't always go in the direction you'd think. This could even be a professor-by-professor thing, as I've certainly never met a professor who wouldn't grant the title TA to an undergrad who puts in the appropriate amount of work. – user4512 May 22 '13 at 6:05
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    As the answers have shown that this isn't a question of "stigma", would you consider editing the title to remove the false assumption? – Nate Eldredge May 24 '13 at 13:22
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    At US institutions where the graduate students are unionized, the union contract often forbids the use of undergraduate TAs. This could be what you are running up against. – Corvus Feb 12 '15 at 16:43
  • If you have tutoring experience in mathematics and experience assisting with CS labs, then I would put that because it is true. If you aren't a TA, then it isn't a stigma, it is a lie. – Ryan Mortensen Mar 24 '15 at 1:39
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A teaching assistantship (TA) is a formal job category at most universities, which implies that you are being paid a specific wage for teaching duties while a graduate student. Consequently, you would be misrepresenting your work on the CV if you called yourself a teaching assistant, because you are not formally a graduate student.

At the university level, another issue may be that while many undergraduates do participate in teaching responsibilities at many schools, this is often in the form of tutoring programs and informal arrangements. Part of the reason for this is that many universities want to be able to claim a higher percentage of teaching duties are done by faculty than is really the case. Calling undergraduates graders and tutors helps to shift off the balance, since they are not officially "teaching staff," and therefore wouldn't be included in such time accounting.

  • That is exactly what I was looking for, thank you. – Jonathan Landrum May 21 '13 at 19:22
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    This answer does not apply universally, even within the US. There are universities that explicitly allow undergraduate teaching assistants, with that title. (Sadly, my university is not one of them, not because the undergrads do any less teaching than graduate students, but because the TA union restricts the title to graduate students, and because we'd have to pay those undergrads the same wages as grad student TAs.) – JeffE May 22 '13 at 2:39
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    At many Canadian institutions, the T.A. position is given to undergraduates, but they are paid much less than their graduate colleagues. This is partially because the T.A. position (hourly wage) is meant much more as a way to transfer funding to the student than it is as an actual reflection of the 'wages earned' for the actual work. So while there isn't necessarily a stigma, undergraduate T.A.s are given much less priority in some locations in Canada. – Irwin May 22 '13 at 14:13
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In my experience, the answer is: teaching assistantship (TA) is a formal job category at most universities, which entails a specific combination of job duties. Those job duties go beyond what you are doing. Therefore, you would be misrepresenting your work on your CV if you called yourself a TA, because you have not been formally appointed as a TA (and because a TA would be expected to take on additional duties beyond what you have been doing).

Note that this is a little different from aeismail's answer. In many institutions, undergrads can be appointed as a TA, under certain circumstances. That doesn't mean that you can just call yourself a TA if you feel like it. For instance, assisting informally or helping with grading papers doesn't necessarily make you a TA; it's not unusual to hire undergraduates to help with those tasks, under some other job title -- but not as a TA. A TA is a very specific job title, and unless you've been appointed under that job title, you should not call yourself a TA.

And I think you're misinterpreting the situation, when you presume there is a stigma against hiring undergrads as a TA. I suspect it's more likely that there is a different explanation: that your instructor reacted negatively because you were proposing to describe yourself as a TA when you have not actually been formally appointed as a TA.

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    I think you've misinterpreted my statements. I never put this on my resume. When she offered the position to me, I asked her about the job title, and she said specifically that undergrads couldn't be TA's. That is why I asked the question "why". I never called myself a TA. – Jonathan Landrum May 24 '13 at 13:19
  • @JonathanLandrum, OK. Maybe your school is one of those where undergrads can't be TAs. (That wasn't clear from the question -- so thank you for the clarification.) – D.W. May 24 '13 at 16:14

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