I was a grader for my university couple of years ago. I'm also a PhD student. Out of the five semesters I graded..I got a "not fit for rehire" 3 times.

I was not responsive, didn't cater to the needs of the students properly, and occasionally would lose assignments submitted to me. I could not handle the logistics of taking in 100+ assignments(sometimes per week). Most importantly, I was thoroughly inconsistent with grading- I could not follow a proper rubric to the bone. Most often I'd have to make a rubric myself, even in really odd grading situations like having to grade students' notes as either 0 or 1(depending on whether they were relevant to the classroom, etc). I would grade the papers, but often I'd find myself grading differently towards the end of the pile as opposed to when I started grading.

Part of the reason this happened was due to my ADHD+OCD combination of mental disorders, but I am tired of citing that to my professors and also myself. The reason I was fired so many times was not due to Grading incompetence, but because I was late to deadlines, would miss TA meetings, and because of reasons like having to leave town before I could finish grading.

The grading incompetence is something only I know. If I think about how many students got, say, a C+ instead of a B- because of MY negligence and irresponsibility, I start feeling like the worst human being on planet earth.

I have considered confessing to my Professors about this, but have never been brave enough to do it. All my semesters of being a TA are long over, grades collected and put up on the students' transcripts. I have somehow managed to get an RA position but have been struggling very badly since the past year mentally due to all this.

I am posting here because I just want some possible solutions. Do I confess, and get terminated from my PhD-most importantly is it technically possible to roll back grades like that en masse? Should I quit graduate school myself? I don't intend to ever be in academia after I get my degree..but I don't feel like I can take that amount of psychological burden and keep feeling worthy of a PhD. What would you do if you were in a similar situation, hypothetically?

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    How long is "long ago"? Five years? Also, are you talking to a mental health professional? Jul 26, 2020 at 19:49
  • 2
    I am in therapy. It's not helping.
    – Remore1112
    Jul 26, 2020 at 19:52
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    If it helps, I had at least 4 profs who (claimed to) do similar or worse things when grading.
    – user111388
    Jul 26, 2020 at 20:26
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    This sounds like something a therapist should be able to help with (someone specializing in the obsessive side of OCD, for instance). If your therapist isn’t helping, I would advise finding a new one.
    – Dawn
    Jul 26, 2020 at 21:02
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    "occasionally would lose assignments submitted to me" This is a major issue, perhaps as important as the rest of your post together. Fixing that would be a major step in the right direction.
    – Mast
    Jul 27, 2020 at 17:56

3 Answers 3


I could not follow a proper rubric to the bone.

That's not unusual. Following a rubric is indeed difficult, even for people who have had many years of experience in teaching. And the rubrics supplied by professors to TAs are often not very good.

Most often I'd have to make a rubric myself,

That's a good thing - you found something that helped you get your work done in a more consistent manner.

often I'd find myself grading differently towards the end of the pile as opposed to when I started grading.

This happens to everybody. It's not desirable, and we try to find ways to avoid it, but a certain amount of inconsistency is inevitable when grading is done by humans.

Do I confess, and get terminated from my PhD

Nothing you've described sounds like cause to terminate a grad student from a PhD program. TA performance is usually evaluated independently from academic performance, and staying in a graduate program is based on the latter. The only exceptions I would expect would be something that went beyond poor performance into the realm of blatant dishonesty: taking bribes from students, etc.

If you were to "confess", I think the likely reaction would be something like "Well yeah, it was clear you weren't doing a very good job as a TA, and that's why we're not hiring you as a TA anymore. So that's the end of that. Why are we still talking about this?"

is it technically possible to roll back grades like that en masse?

It would depend on your university's rules, but it's probably unlikely. The standards for changing grades are usually if there was a clerical error (e.g. incorrect addition of scores) or "arbitrary and capricious" grading (e.g. grades that had absolutely nothing to do with the course material). Just being somewhat inconsistent wouldn't rise to that level. Moreover, there's usually a limited time period in which this is possible at all - after a year or so, the students' original assignments have usually been discarded and it isn't possible to regrade their work even if one wanted to.

If I think about how many students got,say, a C+ instead of a B- because of MY negligence and irresponsibility, I start feeling like the worst human being on planet earth.

So, a few students have a GPA that's 0.01 points lower than it otherwise would have been. It's not exactly on par with mass murder.

Should I quit graduate school myself?

I certainly do not see any cause for that.

What would you do if you were in a similar situation,hypothetically?

If I found that I wasn't able to meet the standards of a job, and I didn't feel able or willing to put in the effort to get better - I would try to find a way not to have to do that job anymore. And that's exactly what you have done, by finding a source of support that doesn't require you to work as a TA. Again, problem solved.

  • 26
    +1. Only thing I would add (not enough for a separate answer) is that the instructor of record, not the TA, is ultimately responsible for course grades. It is the instructor's responsibility to protect the students from an incompetent grader. So, while OP is guilty of poor craftsmanship (for which they were correctly fired), their culpability is limited to having created more work for the instructor.
    – cag51
    Jul 26, 2020 at 22:10
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    If the grade really actually possibly could matter that much, the student would have complained and had it marked again by someone else. Giving a C instead of a B on one assignment won't change a grade enough for you to be worth panicking about it. @remore1112
    – Nij
    Jul 27, 2020 at 5:37
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    @Nij That presumes the student knows the grades were done unfairly. If they're a student with a reasonable attitude, they're going to assume that grading was fair and that they have no reasonable grounds to complain about their grade - even if it's important. Only a very narrow selection of, arguably narcissistic individuals, complain in order to get what they want (under the assumption grading was fair). I strongly doubt it was advertised there were inconsistencies with a chance to appeal. Jul 27, 2020 at 13:47
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    @Remore1112 The system is broken, not you. It's unrealistic to think the grades are really given according to some objective criterion, there's always leeway. The only way to not "feel bad" about this is either to ignore the issue (most do that), give everyone good grades (some do that) or to try to change the system (a few do that).
    – ljrk
    Jul 27, 2020 at 14:17
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    @SSight3 you must not talk to many students, trust me they would never assume that the grading is fair. You are far off base with your comment. Complaining about grades is INCREDIBLY common.
    – eps
    Jul 27, 2020 at 17:58

You are mixing two things. Your performance as a TA is independent of your performance as a PhD student. Being a good TA or a grader is no requirement for you to be a good PhD student. So leave out the thought of being terminated from PhD.

TAs make mistakes all the time. So do professors and lecturers. Grading is not easy and there is no solution to it.

In your case, you have been insincere owing to circumstances, some under your control and some not. You made mistakes and you feel bad about it. Your assessment that your poor work as a TA must have caused issues for students is accurate but what is done is done. One grade in a particular subject is very unlikely to have a poor effect on the career of a student.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of the lecturer to assign the grade, you are only supporting him. I am sure a student would have approached a lecturer if he felt his grades are massively off from what they expected. And the course coordinator would have fixed that issue. It frequently happens - and the lecturers know about your situation.

You have already quit the job you were not able to do properly. So you have already taken the right step. And furthermore, if you still feel guilty, start some free tutoring sessions to help out students with poor grades. Or start some community service by helping school students for free.

We all make mistakes in life. You are a good human being to have accepted it. It is also important for one to move on. And more importantly, what you have done is not that bad as you are making it out. Your guilt outweighs your mistakes.

Focus on your PhD. All these experiences will make you a better professional. Best of luck!


Grading is hard, and it is the structure of reality which we have to accept that we get to hurt others. If you don't hurt anyone you're doing nothing. Sure it's best to go to an approach which minimises suffering but don't mess yourself up because of it.

Go with a "minimum neccesary force" aproach in punishing yourself. Just enough to not do stupid things again and be better in the future.

If you grade differently in the end, one theory is that you have a better understanding of how to grade it.

Grading can be arbitrary especially on subjects which have no clear cut answer and are opinion based. I'd say if you have something which bothers you then speak to your professors. It might not be as bad as it seems to you. The longer you keep something in the back of your mind the worse it gets. Deal with your demons as long as they are little demons.

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