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it is my first time applying to a (pure math) PhD program and I just received my first admission letter (yay!). It says I'm considered for TA and "Teaching duties consist to up to 5 contact hours a week".

Before applying anywhere I was under the impression that TA required ~20h a week. My question: Are they not showing some "hidden time" ? or do I have a special offer (=they "want" me)? Or is it normal for this university (GeorgiaTech)?

If it can make a difference, I'm 32yo/married so I'm thinking they might also want to be nice with me to accommodate for this "special" situation.

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    Congratulations on your acceptance! It's always a big relief. It depends on the pay rate at your school. At my school they officially say 20 hours to ensure the monthly pay you get matches the hourly rate, whereas working 20 hours would be totally unrealistic. I would look into seeing what your actual paycheck will look like, and if you have to pay any fees for being a student. – user74089 Jan 27 at 15:26
  • @Gradstudent thanks. ~20k/year and basically free tuition – Thomas Jan 27 at 15:39
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    OK, I think what you have is typical. At my university the standard thing is to have 2 discussions twice a week in one semester, and 3 discussions twice a week the next semester. That averages out to 5 classroom hours per week. – user74089 Jan 27 at 15:43
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    You should understand that most pure math PhD students don't really have the knowledge required to do much serious research early on, so RAs are very rare for new PhD students, unlike in engineering or computing. Congratulations on your offer though! – xuq01 Jan 28 at 5:13
  • I've been advised by my undergraduate adviser that when you need to teach 1 hour lecture you need to multiply it by 3 as the total hours you need to spend on this lecture. – kelalaka Jan 29 at 10:48
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"Contact hours" is standard jargon in academia for formal class time: hours when the instructor/TA and all the students are scheduled to be together.

So this basically means you will teach 5 hours of classes or discussion/recitation sections per week. This does not count the time you will need to spend preparing your material for those classes, grading homework or exams, holding office hours, working in tutoring labs, responding to student questions via email or online forum, meeting with the instructor or course coordinator, and so on. (Although you are in "contact" with students during office hours or in a tutoring lab, the term "contact hours" doesn't include informal face-to-face time like this.)

Once all this is added up, I'd guess it will be around the 20 hours per week that you expected.

This does not seem to be a special offer. I would guess it's the normal offer that all the accepted grad students receive. (In any case, decisions to make someone a "better" offer, e.g. less work for the same money, would normally not take into account their age or marital status - most universities would consider that inappropriate or even illegal. Such decisions would instead be based on academic merit and potential.)

As you consider this offer, you'll want to find out what's actually expected of TAs in this program, and how much time and energy TAs typically have to devote to their duties. Most math departments invite accepted grad students to the campus for a 1-2 day visit to help you explore what they have to offer. This would be a good time to ask about TA duties - ask the graduate coordinator about the official duties, and ask the current grad students what they actually experience. Sometimes there is a difference between the two.

  • Thanks. I'm indeed invited to visit. Is it a time/good idea to negotiate to have a RA directly? – Thomas Jan 27 at 16:05
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    @Thomas: This is probably not something you can negotiate. If they were willing to offer you a research assistantship or fellowship, they would have said so. In math, research assistantships usually come from your advisor's grant money (if any), and so the only chance to have one is later in the program, when you are working on research with an advisor. – Nate Eldredge Jan 27 at 16:10
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    @Thomas - just to add on to what Nate Eldredge said: if you have an advisor who can support you some semesters, that would be great. Something to consider when you are trying to choose. Sometimes a collection of professors will get a grant and can support students while other professors don't have that. – user74089 Jan 27 at 16:13
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I'm a graduate student at Georgia Tech in mathematics. This is the standard offer that we all receive. For most students, those 5 hours include:

  • 2 recitations twice a week (2 hours a week each)
  • 1 hour working in the math help centre (which doubles as an office hour)

Not included in those 5 hours are all the time you will be spending preparing for your recitation and grading quizzes and exams.

Some other things to note:

  • In your first semester, the school of math only has you teach a single recitation and the extra time goes to two training courses (one for teaching and the other for grad school in general). Those are about 3 hours a week combined (+ a small bit of homework sometimes).

  • Your first semester you will be teaching at 8 am (this is more of an issue for younger students than yourself, I imagine)

  • There's been a push to have grad students teach two sections for the same class (with the same instructor) which reduces the amount of time you need to prepare each week.

  • Because that makes scheduling more complicated, you may end up teaching late at night (5 to 7 pm). Or you could opt not to teach late at night but then you might have to be a TA for two different courses.

In my own experience, I haven't found the teaching load to be too burdensome. In part due to the efforts recently to have students teach two of the same class and merging the 1 hour in the math help centre with our office hours (which happened before I arrived).

If you have any questions, feel free to email me (you can find my email at http://math.gatech.edu/people). You can also email the current graduate coordinator, Mohammad Ghomi or the TA coordinator, Klara Grodzinsky.

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Actually, five "contact hours" per week doesn't sound like a light load. The assumption is that you will also provide service to those students in other ways as well. A professor teaching two courses in a semester (six-eight contact hours) has a full teaching load and spends more time with "teaching" than standing in front of students.

So, I think it is about "normal" for such things, but don't expect that you only need to spend five "total" hours to fulfill your duties.

If you are an experienced teacher, the implication might be that they want to give you full responsibility for an elementary course - an instructor, with all that implies. Preparation, teaching, grading, office hours.

But, yes, they want you.

  • I guess 5 contact hours would be 2 recitation sections twice a week, and 1 hour working in the math help center? – user74089 Jan 27 at 15:30
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    @Gradstudent: Time spent in a help center wouldn't normally be considered "contact hours", even though it's true that you are in contact with students during that time. "Contact hours" usually means formal class time, when the instructor/TA and all the students are scheduled to be together. – Nate Eldredge Jan 27 at 15:36
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    @NateEldredge maybe it isn't "normally" counted but it is counted at Georgia Tech (I'm a student there). – Trevor Gunn Jan 28 at 4:46

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