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I, a twenty-year-old female, have come to admire the graduate teaching assistant for my summer course quite strongly. I'm extremely interested in what he has to say, I always pay attention, never use my phone and use eye contact to show interest. I do like them very much and I think about them with warmth often. I want to know about their work, I want to know what he is interested in. I would like to at least be their friend.

Despite my strong admiration I must emphasize that I have not and do not plan to cross professional boundaries until the end of the course.

I have spoken to them though it was only a short conversation about the work that was assigned to us the following weekend, however he did seem quite warm and open to conversation. Specifically he emphasizes in his syllabus to not hesitate to contact him with any questions we may have at all. I would like to be able to talk to them more without bothering them, and over stepping professional boundaries. I hopefully plan to ask them out once the course has ended, but I would still like to be able to have the chance to talk to them too as friends outside of course hours about the course material. Would this be ethical? Should I just back down? Specifically I wanted to thank him for giving me a very positive, in-depth feed back in the essay assignment that I had turned in that I got a perfect grade on.

I've been going through a really rough time in my personal life. Despite having flunked before, I made a promise to myself to work harder and to never give up on my goals. Truly their receptiveness, warmth and passion has genuinely inspired me to keep going and to study harder. I would very much like to thank them for inspiring me and being a good teacher which has helped me understand the material.

  • Would it be ethical to express these sentiments of admiration and gratitude to them during their office hours?

  • Would it be possible to date them after the course has ended since he is essentially a normal graduate student instead of a true professor?

*edit Class has ended and we have a date planned! Thanks all for your advice!

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    You applied a bounty when there were already several highly upvoted answers. Can you clarify on which parts of the question you are hoping to achieve further clarity? – cag51 Jul 24 at 3:55
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11 Answers 11

187

Wait until after the course is over and grades are in: don't put your TA in a difficult situation.

After that, you are just two adult humans, assuming you won't have any other courses with this TA.

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    However, they will still be working and studying in the same department, so some care is needed. Be prepared to handle a "No interested" answer gracefully. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 21 at 12:18
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    We actually are majoring in different things. I’m getting a bachelors with a plan to get a masters in clinical psych and he is a history PhD candidate. He’s teaching one of the core classes I missed taking when I dropped out for my health. – apollogie Jul 21 at 14:58
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    @apollogie That makes it less likely you'll interact again professionally so that makes it easier, but Patricia's suggestion to be prepared to handle a "not interested" answer is still very important: you need to be prepared that he may not be interested. That can be difficult when you feel like you know someone well but don't actually have a personal relationship with yet, so just be aware of that and ready, and keep your hopes measured. – Bryan Krause Jul 21 at 15:13
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    @Tom Restricting one's dating pool to non-academics is no protection against rejection. – JeffE Jul 21 at 22:43
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    @apollogie, if you never risk the "not interested" answer, then you're guaranteeing it by answering the question negatively for them. Give him the opportunity to answer for himself and you won't have to wonder later in life what the answer could have been. Maybe the answer will be actually be "interested". – computercarguy Jul 22 at 21:55
87

I'd like to add that there is another reason for waiting until the class have been over for a while. There's a phenomenon of "love for authority." It happens a lot in academia, where the instructor would otherwise not be that interesting, but because of the moderate position of power (and the things that go with it, like being the perceived leader, self-confidence, etc) he is much more attractive. It could be that a month after the course is over, your TA will fade back into his proper level.

Love relationships based on an unequal balance of power are usually unhealthy. You probably want to make sure that you're really attracted to him and not just his position.

Consider the other person's feelings in this as well. They could fall for you based on your attraction to them. If you find out later that your attraction was solely or mostly because of the teacher-student dynamic, it could be pretty hard for them when you break it off.

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    And too often, the instructor, IRL, turns out to be incredibly boring. I know I am. – Buffy Jul 21 at 13:11
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    @Buffy Right. In real life I'm a complete introvert. My classroom personality, where I'm witty, outgoing, and in charge is a complete fabrication. My idea of an evening of fun is a cigar and a beer on the deck with no one bothering me. – B. Goddard Jul 21 at 13:14
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    Be careful! I can tell you as a teacher I stay away from this issue for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the individual. This might put the TA in a tough spot no matter how they feel about you. – Dave Kanter Jul 21 at 18:18
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    Thanks for the advice, I’ll just wait until the end and accept whatever happens. I should be focusing on my study’s anyway right now – apollogie Jul 21 at 20:07
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    @Ooker I'm pretty far down the spectrum. It took years of experimenting, and many missteps, to build a robotic facade to use in the classroom. I don't think any of my jokes are funny, but I've figured out how to make the class laugh. On evaluations, I get many comments about how I'm a very different person in office hours than I am in lecture. I would describe my job has a monumental struggle. I figured out a way to feed myself. But I have never understood why so many people in academia didn't want me to eat. There is a lot of bigotry in academia against the neurologically different. – B. Goddard Jul 22 at 11:34
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Would it be ethical to express these sentiments of admiration and gratitude to them during their office hours?

Of course. I would wait until the course, and the grades, are finalized, though. Consider sending a note or expressing your (professional) sentiments during TA evaluations (if such a thing exists where you are); doing it in office hours might be uncomfortable.

Would it be possible to date them after the course has ended since they are essentially a normal graduate student instead of a true professor ?

You would have to check your university's rules. In general, there are no policies prohibiting this sort of relationship, if you will have no future courses together. The TA in question might be concerned about the appearance of impropriety, however.

As an artist, would it be strange to ask them if i could give them a drawing?

Of course you should not give them anything until the course, and the grades, are finalized. As to strangeness, that's maybe an interpersonal issue -- for me, yes, I would certainly find it strange, but that's not to say I wouldn't think it was awesome, especially if I liked the student.

It gets more complicated since you plan to ask him out though -- if you give it, then ask him out, that's a bit uncomfortable; if you ask him out and are turned down, it's a bit awkward to give him the artwork anyway.

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    Most universities in the US would have a policy against TA's dating students enrolled in a course for which the TA has responsibility for grading. It's a situation where there is an asymmetric power relationship. I suspect many institutions would also have policies against tutors paid by the school dating persons to whom they have tutorial duties. – 42- Jul 21 at 17:19
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    Yes of course -- hence my qualifier "if you will have no future courses together." – cag51 Jul 21 at 19:40
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    As an instructor, I've gotten a few drawings and paintings from students. Nothing strange about it. Typically, this happens after the course ends. – jaia Jul 21 at 21:46
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    @apollogie Yeah I really think you should keep your drawing. It might seem like a good idea from your perspective but you might just scare him off. Remember, show interest, not obsession. That's a real turn-off. I'm exaggerating, but basically "Hey I think you're cute" works much better than "Omg you're so perfect just date me now" (don't take this too hard but it's good to have it in mind. Try to balance your shown interest!) – Teleporting Goat Jul 22 at 9:06
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    @GregMartin - yes, I meant expressing "sentiments of admiration and gratitude" during TA evaluations, not asking him out during TA evaluations. Updated my answer to make this clearer. – cag51 Jul 22 at 9:24
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First: Nothing wrong with you - many of us had/have colleagues they deeply admire and potentially want some kind of personal relationship with (and sometimes that works out), not such an unusual situation.

I wish i could request to transfer myself out lol.

So why don't you? If there is another TA, you can ask the professor to move. Then ask the TA out for a coffee to explain why you moved.

Would it be ethical to express these sentiments of admiration and gratitude to them during their office hours?

If you show gratitude or admiration be specific. No problem at all to thank for a specific hint or deed. Not a big deal in showing a moderate amount of admiration, like "i liked your slides".

However, if it is more that your conversation with him is based on your crush on him and not directed at a specific thing but at spending time with him, then don't forget, during his office hours he has not the simple option to just ask you to leave (it is his job to tutor), and maybe there are other students and time pressure - so ask yourself - if you would have a man make advances on you in your job under the pretext of the job, how would you like it in general as a female ? If it would be the other way round, people would consider it pretty obvious that such a behavior is not appropriate (obviously happens too often!).

Would it be possible to date them after the course has ended since they are essentially a normal graduate student instead of a true professor?

Zero problem with that from a moral/ethical viewpoint, but

  • check university rules
  • avoid the appearance that it's related to the grading of the course in any way (if you date, be a little discrete for one or two months)

Good luck!

9

Telling someone you are grateful for their help with your work is usually a good and kind thing to do.

In this case, however, you are not just grateful for their professional contributions, but interested in them as a person, potentially romantically. If your TA was aware of this it would make their job harder:

  • they may worry that you are trying to bias them in your favour,
  • they may worry that other people will think you are trying to bias them, so they have to try extra hard to demonstrate that they are not,
  • they may worry that they are actually being subconsciously biased, and try to compensate for it, and then worry if they're overcompensating and being unfair,
  • they may worry that you will be especially sensitive to receiving criticism from them, or you may interpret praise differently,
  • if they find the attention uncomfortable, they can't just avoid social contact with you, because it's a necessary part of their job.

Until the course is over you are doing them a favour by keeping the personal aspect to yourself.

With that in mind, even expressing just professional gratitude carries some risk that you'll unintentionally – through your manner, nervousness, choice of words, whatever – signal the personal feelings you have.

The safe thing to do is to avoid standing out in the eyes of your TA until the course is over. That said, the unsafe thing does have potential upsides and I don't want to tell you that no-one should ever say something kind to someone else for fear of unwanted implications. But make sure when you're thinking about what you want to do that you're including the potential ways it can go badly for them, as well as for you.

7

You won't have future courses with him, so ethically I expect it would be okay to get to know him after the course is over (as you said).

But you have a problem that hasn't directly been addressed in other answers.

Would this be ethical? Should I just back down? Specifically I wanted to thank him for giving me a very positive, in-depth feed back in the essay assignment that I had turned in that I got a perfect grade on

Nothing wrong with doing that, but it might be awkward if he detects that you are interested in him.
He might feel obligated to put you at arms length (and he would be right to do so since he is currently your TA).

Studying is so hard for this class now... Im trying really hard and i have an A but i find myself day dreaming about them at the same time.

That's great... except for the fact that you are in the middle of a relationship with him which he isn't participating in (yet). You need to reign it in some, or

  1. by the time you tell him you are interested in him, you'll be much farther into this relationship than he is... that could scare him off.
  2. or you could miss the mark with your assumptions but he is a great guy (and a great fit for you) but he isn't who you think he is...
    so you end up disappointed with a guy that otherwise would have been a great match for you.

Just slow down... you'll have a better chance after the course is over.

Also, I'd advise you to wait a few weeks after the course to contact him... if you contact him immediately, he may still feel like he is your TA and feel ethically compelled to turn you down.

6

If you two enter a romantic relationship, then together with the existing TA-student relationship, you two are having a dual relationship. It is recommended to avoid this type of relationship, for the reason that other people have discussed.

However, just for the sake of the discussion, let's assume that you decide to enter it anyway. Then the prerequisite is that you two be aware of all the possible negative outcome that come to this, that the benefits outweigh the risks. Then you two will have to continually consciously remind yourselves that these relationships should not be mixed, and to continually answer people's challenges. Since this is a very serious problem, they will scrutinize it more than normal – in other words, they are skeptical that this ethically works. And persuading them is the same with making them having cognitive dissonance, which is an arduous task. All of these things will quickly drain a huge amount of your energy to do other things, including building your relationship.

So it's about whether you have the energy to get through all of this or not, and whether both of you decide that this energy is worth to spend on this or not.

4

Lots of good suggestions already. One more thing: If possible, observe the "person of interest" in several settings and interactions other than the classroom. Is he boisterous, self-serving, or indifferent to opportunities to help someone in need...or controlling with others? An assessment of another's character can seldom be determined on a date (when catering to your interests) or during a job performance (needing to do well for professional obligations or advancements). How does he respond to someone who is down and out, irritating, or in middle of distress? What is his patience-level or sense of humor when "out and about" or when not knowing he is being observed? (No...I'm not suggesting "stalking"...just observation if possible).

  • I have no idea where to see him outside of the class room setting. Our campus is pretty small so even if i did come across him by accident sticking around and accidentally getting caught staring might be a little off putting... However i do observe him during the lecture ( guys i have an A in the class right now please dont attack me for losing concentration come one he's really adorable...) He seems like a really reserved, shy and laid back person. Pretty smiley when he talks to me though, not really sure if that means anything. Im at a loss. – apollogie Jul 22 at 5:43
  • He has some micro expressions if someone's annoying, and when he's nervous he sways around and holds his hands, whenever hes embarrassed it slips through pretty easily so i feel like he's an easily readable person? then again i could be wrong. – apollogie Jul 22 at 5:45
3

Wait until the course is over. Think if they don't feel the same way. It is just awkward after that.

Stay focused on why you're there. You've got time to enjoy your life. Maybe he'll be a part of it but don't put a wrinkle in your road that may affect your course outcome.

-1

I agree with the previous answers; my immediate thought was that you might try proposing - while not in a work context - that you date once the course is over. If you are really worried about the university's position on this matter you could always consider declaring the relationship with the administration.

I can empathise with your position having been attracted to three different scientists throughout my career to this point. However, I would never have the courage to initiate, since I would be mortified if the feelings were not reciprocal. And I know that the feelings almost certainly were not reciprocal.

As somebody else has said, it is possible that we are subconsciously attracted to people because of their position rather than because of their individuality, and maybe you will only be able to discern between these realities by trying the relationship.

I wish you all the best, and I hope you form a happy couple!

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Would it be possible to date them after the course has ended since they are essentially a normal graduate student instead of a true professor?

I am going to disagree with the broad consensus of advice given here, which tells you to wait until after your course is over. I realise that some universities (particularly in the US) have an absurdly Puritan sexual environment, but even accounting for this, the precaution to wait until the end of your course still seems unnecessary to me. If you are romantically interested in this student, there is no reason that you cannot express your interest immediately. And indeed, if you wait, he might get scooped up by someone else.

Since you are the undergraduate student in this encounter, and he is your teacher, it is unlikely that there is any ethical/professional restriction on your own expression of interest in him. Bear in mind that from his position, it is likely that he will be under some professional/ethical restrictions on how he deals with this, since he is your teacher. Even so, it should not be all that difficult for a graduate-student teaching assistant to deal with a situation in which he is considering becoming romantically involved with an undergraduate, or (hopefully not) considering turning her down. University policies on this matter differ from institution to institution, but all that is likely to be involved is that he would disclose this to the course convener, and you might be assigned to a different class, or have your work marked by a different teaching assistant.

Contrary to the advice of others on this thread, there is absolutely no ethical reason to wait until the end of your course to express romantic interest in your teacher --- my advice: carpe diem.

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    Even if you as a student have no rules preventing you from doing this, your intended romantic partner (the TA) likely does. If you're really interested in having a relationship with them, it seems like you would want to avoid putting them in a bad spot where either they are forced to turn you down or you risk them looking unprofessional in front of a supervisor. – Bitmapped Jul 23 at 12:58
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    @Bitmapped but according to the answer, it's just simply an inconvenience for him rather than a career issue – Ooker Jul 23 at 15:41
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    Being asked out my a 20-year-old female admirer while in grad school does not put one in a "bad spot", and there is nothing "unprofessional" in having this occur. – Ben Jul 23 at 22:03
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    I half agree with this – and admire its honesty. It is definitely your TAs problem as they are the one in the position of authority. But it is wrong to think the two of you will overcome the Freudian situation of the power dynamic. I'd strongly recommend transfering tutorial first, then telling them why. This may mean you won't get to hear from your favourite tutor anymore AND you find out their already in a relationship, but as Ben says, it may be worth that risk. – Joanna Bryson Jul 25 at 20:44
  • @Ooker Each institution has their own policy, but at my college, we've fired GTAs who became involved in relationships with students currently in their classes. Even if it is possible to transfer the student mid-semester to another instructor, the GTA or student are going to have to explain why. It's not going to reflect well on the GTA they tried to do this, and that could very well have career ramifications. It's much safer to wait until the end of the semester. – Bitmapped Jul 26 at 14:48

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