Recently, I talked with a CS Professor regarding working in his lab as a postdoc. He said that he is interested in my CV/profile, but he can only give me a contract as a teaching staff until he gets the grants next year. However, he said that all the courses he currently instructs are given only in German (which is a constraint for me).

But I was wondering if I'm supposed to do teaching as a postdoc, I shouldn't be expected to act as a TA of his courses. Instead, I should be the instructor of a course and not his own course. At least, that's what I always imagine as the level of teaching responsibilities for a postdoc researcher.

Then, if that assumption is correct, I wonder if I can suggest a few topics that fit his group's research profile and is not given by other groups so that I can instruct in English. For instance as a course (or block course or seminar) in the international track. But, I like to know how realistic/practical this could be before discussing it with him.

  • I think the issue is less the role of a teaching post doc and more the effort that it takes to create a university course (not collecting the teaching materials and creating a syllabus, I mean the administrative steps to create a course, justify what requirements it will fill for which students, have students register for it, etc). It sounds like you are suggesting you would be creating a specialized course for yourself to teach over one year period while you are waiting for research funds?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 20:46
  • @BryanKrause I see what you mean. But I think these administrative steps could be easier for block courses and seminars. Is that right?
    – Bob
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 20:51
  • I'm not familiar with what you mean by a block course. Yes it would be easier for a seminar course if what I think of as a seminar course is the same as you (typically a 1-credit graduate or upper undergraduate course with a specified scope that remains constant, but a one-year focus that changes according to expertise of the instructor or trending topics; in my experience vaguely named something like 'Topics in Systems Neuroscience'). However, that's not the type of course I would expect to have funds lying around to hire a full-time instructor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 20:55
  • @BryanKrause By block course, I mean teaching a topic in 1-2 weeks while having one long session per day where the students can earn 3/4 credit points. I've seen such courses being given frequently, but not sure how easy/difficult should be their administrative aspects.
    – Bob
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


If you are going to a new country (assumed based on the German tag and the language being a challenge) or even only a new university, then first acting as a teaching assistant can be very good - you will learn how courses are organized, teaching handled, what you can expect of the students, possibly some of the bureaucracy and the online systems that are in use.

The alternative is to learn all of this while, at the same time, creating a course or mastering the contents of an existing one, and learning all the involved bureaucracy. This can be done, for sure, but it will be involved and consume much time.

This probably also depends on your teaching experience: If you have already lectured a course, or have extensive experience as a teaching assistant, then you should be more prepared to lecture a course and can ask for it.

Consider also your language skills. Giving a comprehensible lecture in a foreign language is significantly easier than a free conversation. There will be an accent, but if you write and speak everything, many students can cope. You will need to find a good resource for learning the vocabulary and how to pronounce mathematical expressions, though, if do not yet have such.

There might also be intermediate roles between a teaching assistant and the main lecturer - I had such a position in Norway (at NTNU) as an øvingslærer.

  • What is an "øvingslærer"? Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 23:12
  • @AzorAhai A position between the primary lecturer and a teacher assistant. I can elaborate if you are interested, but it does not seem terribly relevant for this particular answer.
    – Tommi
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 7:54

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