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I came back to school after a long break (5+ years) and jumped right back into higher level courses (junior and senior level courses). First thing I noticed was that a professor did not lecture or hold any office hours, instead a hired part-time lecturer, who had another full time job, filled this role. Secondly I noticed that out of the 20 or so TAs in this course, at least 75% are undergraduate students who took this course during their undergrad and received a 3.7 GPA or higher.

This is at a very respectable public university in WA, and in their computer science department.

Any thoughts on this? When I attended a university in the Midwest years ago, all lectures were taught by professors or assistant professors, and TAs were graduate students. Have things changed? This seems very odd to me, especially for such a prestigious computer science department.

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  • You might find it useful to review University policy on teaching authority. Discuss this with the department chair, then the dean of the relevant college. They should be able to show you a policy that covers this, approved by the board of trustees. Keep going until you see the written policy. Jun 5 at 23:43
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While a bit unusual, especially with the proportion you give, it isn't wrong per se for undergraduates to TA courses. Some students earn the responsibility they are given by hard work, and there might be financial incentives for them. I'd worry more about the quality of the TA assistance than about the fact that they don't hold any degrees.

Reacting to your comment about the instructor, it is common for universities to hired part time (adjunct) faculty for some courses. Often those people are very highly qualified in the specific topic and they may hold full time employment elsewhere.

If they do a good job then there is little to complain about. If they don't then you have the same issues as with full time faculty. The important thing is the quality of education, not the rest of it.

My former employer had a few such people who were research faculty at large companies (IBM, say). They did it for the love of teaching and did a good job of it. This can be more true for advanced, specialized, courses than for low level ones. I haven't checked their degrees, but suspect that they held doctorates.

So, it many not be cost cutting, unless it is overused. It might just be a way to tap into both outside expertise and contacts with the adjuncts' employers. That can be valuable for students on the verge of entering the workplace.

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  • ahh good point. A significant part of the conversation has been that the lecturer works for a tech-interview-prep company. Perhaps this was the appeal, that the lecturer can give the students insights into how to do well in tech interviews. Thanks for the reply!
    – Anonymoose
    Jun 5 at 16:31
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This will depend on the university/department, as well as the specific course and professor/instructor(s). Where I did my undergraduate, all my coursework was taught by faculty in my department. Between each individual course, the TA situation varied. In many of the lower-level undergraduate courses, as well as the upper-division required courses, there were recitation/lab sections that were led by undergraduate TA's, who were also tasked with holding office hours, while graduate TA work was mostly grading. This was in my school's Computer Science department, while in the Statistics department, graduate students were tasked with leading the recitations, while undergraduate students only held office hours. In the case of that department, I have seen a couple of instances of what OP described above where an adjunct with a different full-time job at a nearby institution taught a (smaller) night section of an upper division Calculus course.

Some universities may do it different. I've actually heard it was the case in at least a couple of universities where undergraduates actually are able to design/teach their own course at that university. (this is unheard of at my university so I don't know too much outside of that)

From my perspective, while a graduate student will have knowledge of the material, an undergraduate TA is more likely to know the in and outs of the course since they took that exact version of the course, and will likely be able to better connect with the students. In both cases, they have to demonstrate being knowledgeable and proficient of the course material before the professor can appoint them as a TA.

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