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I will graduate from my Master's programme in a week. I did exceptionally well and landed a TA position within the same department. I am truly humbled by the faith that my professors have put in me but I am a little anxious now.

I am 24 years old and I already know that most of the students I will be teaching are older than me. Moreover, I have already met a few of them earlier this year (while I was still a student). That is, they know me from the social and informal context of our student-mixer evening spent together. I am wondering how these two points put together would affect my authority in the classroom. What can I do to make sure that all the students are aware that I am no longer just a student? I am definitely okay with an informal relationship with the students because that is the norm in the department but I also do want to be taken seriously. What should I do?

I am just afraid that the students will feel like I am just one of them. And that is also perhaps okay as long it doesn't undermine my authority.

Thank you in advance for any advice.

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  • Are you a TA assisting a professor in one of their courses, or are you teaching a course yourself?
    – Buffy
    Jul 29 at 12:01
  • Probably very field and country dependent. I suspect that for many decades the majority of U.S. math graduate students from the U.S. began graduate study with a TA position around age 22-23, and probably a large minority of these were teaching their own courses before they finished the program. I taught my first course (lectures, writing and grading of all tests, final grades, etc.) at 24, and this seemed rather late for me as I spent 5 years as an undergraduate (2 universities) and was among the oldest for my school grades throughout school (turned 7 two months after beginning first grade). Jul 29 at 14:13
  • No. Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/141790/19607
    – Kimball
    Jul 29 at 15:02
  • Would you be TAing for the Master's degree you just finished, or the Bachelor's degree courses that the professors taught your Master's Degree also teach?
    – nick012000
    Jul 29 at 15:04
  • 2
    If you can answer some of the questions posed in these comments you will get more/better answers.
    – Buffy
    Jul 29 at 17:50
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You are 24 years old right now. So, you are not too young to do “everything you want”. You might feel anxiety that is normal when we do something we haven’t done before.

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I was a graduate student TA when I was 21 and looked 18. I would say I was not too young, and neither are you, but there can be issues. I learned the hard way.

You might want to do something like carrying a briefcase to make it clear you are in charge, and in a different role than the students. This sort of signaling can be gender and location specific so use your imagination: pants with sharp creases; shoulder pads; power ties; briefcases; drop the pitch of your voice like Thatcher did; carry only red pens. By about the second week of classes I swapped out a grungy backpack for a formal looking briefcase. I thudded it on the desk as I came in the room.

You are not obligated to do these things. You can demand to be treated professionally just because you walk in the room and say "I'm your TA" but sometimes it is just easier to use visual clues. Then you have more mental bandwidth to think about the course content and listen to questions.

I used this trick decades later when called to a state finance committee meeting. My bosses told me to talk as little as possible, so I went with a power suit and a bold tie. I probably should have carried a red pen and pretended I had just been grading.

Don't overdo it and to all these things. I do not wish to be another Dr. Frankenstein.

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