so I've applied to be a teaching assistant for System Fundamentals (undergrad course) and am meeting with a Professor tomorrow.

I did well in the class, but I'm not sure how "smart" one has to be in order to be a teaching assistant. I'm not the geeky and super-smart type that knows computers/programming in and out. I suppose you could say I'm "textbook smart," having studied a lot, but I can't solve problems on command.

My question is, how much above the students' knowledge of the subject should I have in order to be an adequate TA? Insights/experiences on anything related is appreciated. Thanks.

closed as primarily opinion-based by padawan, Enthusiastic Engineer, Buzz, Darrin Thomas, avid Jan 26 '18 at 3:46

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  • 1
    It is better to ask the professor tomorrow than to ask us. – GEdgar Jan 25 '18 at 1:30
  • I just want to know if there are other CSE TA's here who can share something. – chy00 Jan 25 '18 at 1:32

Parts of the answer to your question vary wildly based on your university, and some are universal.

For the first kind, some universities/departments exclusively offer TAships to graduate students. In my university, the minimum requirement to apply in the CS department is to have completed the course.

As for the second kind, there's a kind of truism in teaching: to teach someone, you only need know more than them. So, really you just need to know what's being taught in that course well. Sure some curious students might ask beyond that, and if you don't know the answers to more advanced questions, that's perfectly OK - you're not a prof, you're there to help them understand the material in that course. Tell them what you know then direct them to where they can learn more.

Of course knowledge isn't enough to be a good TA, teaching is it's whole other science. To be able to explain things in basic terms to novices in a subject is an extremely underrated and rare skill. If you're gonna be a TA, you should work on this and things of this nature.

Overall, don't fret about if you have sufficient knowledge to be a TA - if they accept you, you can rest assured they won't hire someone who doesn't have the sufficient mastery of the subject. That only happens when they're forced to give grad students TA positions :)

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    +1 for nicely expressed practical advice, especially "Tell them what you know then direct them to where they can learn more". – Dave L Renfro Jan 25 '18 at 13:42

Well it depends on your institution. But at mine the minimum requirement is to be a third year. When multiple students have applied, graduate students are prioritized firstly, and then the students course and grade history secondarily. When there is only one applicant for a role the bar isn't set particularly high to take them on.

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