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The professor I have been assigned to TA hasn't assigned any work and has stonewalled me. I have sent three emails to check in and he hasn't responded. How should I respond? Should I bother reporting this to my graduate advisor?

UPDATE!! - He finally responded. He did have some issues, but is doing much better and is going to be more responsive moving forward. Thank you for all the great advice on this forum!

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    Have you tried talking to the instructor in person? – JeffE Feb 22 '19 at 8:49
  • I once TA'd a course with an instructor I never met until the grading of the final exam. He did ask me to write quizzes, grade quizzes, and indicated what he wanted done in problem sessions, but we communicated only by email. He had some sort of adjunct appointment, teaching also somewhere else, and found it inconvenient to meet in person. I and the other TA found the situation strange, but it was not worse than TAing for some very hands on professors. Universities create contexts for such situations by inadequately supervising the relation of TAs to faculty (leaving too much to the faculty). – Dan Fox Feb 22 '19 at 9:42
  • The first week I was assigned to him, I went to all his lectures, but wasn't assigned to any sort of task. He didn't even have me collect the paper assignments from students. The following week, still nothing, so I scheduled a quick meeting with him and he barely had anything to say. He had me teach a 15 minute grammar review to the classes the following week. Although I am totally unqualified to teach grammar, I did a pretty good job. After that . . . Radio silence. – Cynthia Feb 22 '19 at 17:00
  • Can you talk to him in person immediately after his class? – Andreas Blass Feb 22 '19 at 23:24
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First try some other methods of getting in touch with him. Call him on the phone, go to his office (during scheduled office hours if possible). It's possible that for some reason your emails are not reaching him, or he's just overwhelmed with other stuff and forgot to reply. Don't throw around words like "stonewall" unless you have proof that he received your emails and is willfully refusing to reply.

If you can't, then yes, you ought to report it. Your advisor may not be the right person; I would look to whichever faculty member supervises the TA program in your department. It could be the chair, or graduate vice chair, or some similar person.

It could be that this is a sign of bigger problems, and if so, it will reflect poorly on you when it is found out that you knew something was wrong and took no action.

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If you stay in academia, you will often end up in situations where you have the option to do nothing. (Usually, they do not look like this one; usually, they will involve you going home early because nobody checks if you are in your office/lab working on research.) You will not succeed if you always take the option to do nothing. One of the ways that staying silent about this situation may reflect poorly on you is that other people will conclude that you'll approach research the same way.

There are ways to take advantage of this situation that are not dishonest. If the professor isn't taking initiative to come up with things for you to do as the TA, then you can take that initiative yourself. (For example, if there is a recitation section or problem session, you can ask if you can pick your own topics to cover that are relevant to the material discussed in class.) However,

  • don't do this without the professor's knowledge, and
  • don't do this if you don't think you can do a good job.

With these two caveats in mind, it might be worth your while; you get to do more interesting things, you learn more from being a TA, and the students get more out of the class than they would if the TA did nothing.

Whether you do this or not, you need to talk to the professor (and to the department, if talking to the professor proves impossible).

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  1. As long as you are getting paid, this is a desirable state of affairs.

  2. Send him an email or two to CYA ("please contact me with any instructions", "let me know if you need any help as the course goes on").

  3. Go do your research and work on YOUR degree.

P.s. Please do not also complain about being bumped up to first class and forced to drink champagne and eat filet mignon. Act nonchalant and move ahead pleasantly.

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    I'm brand new here - I didn't realize the check mark means I've accepted the answer - thank you! – Cynthia Feb 22 '19 at 5:43
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    Can anybody tell what the last para (P.s.) means? I do not understand it. Is it supposed to be a campus joke that I did not catch? – scaaahu Feb 22 '19 at 5:48
  • @scaahu - First-class flights, champagne, and filet mignon are very expensive ways to travel, alcoholic beverages, and food, respectively. Guest is suggesting that OP should be glad to be in the situation of getting paid without having to work. Another way to say it would be "don't look a gift horse in the mouth." – cag51 Feb 22 '19 at 5:57
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    Unfortunately, airlines that discover that you accidentally sat in first class sometimes sue you for the price difference. This needs to be reported to someone in authority (and not by email, because email is apparently not working) if only to make sure that the TA isn’t punished later for failing to do their job. – JeffE Feb 22 '19 at 8:52
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    If you can confirm with the professor that there is nothing to do right now, then that's fine. If you can't reach him at all, then it's a sign that either he's not doing his job (supervising his TA) or that something else is wrong, which may be impacting the class he's supposed to teach. As an employee of the university and as a member of the teaching profession, you have a duty to follow up on this and report it. – Nate Eldredge Feb 22 '19 at 16:19

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