I am in computer science in the usa with a PHD offer. I’ve been told that if u get funded with a TA position, it doesn’t necessarily slow your graduation time. Is this true? It seems obvious to me that someone who works more on research will be able to graduate faster.

I’m asking because I do enjoy TAing and would like to do so more than just the single semester requirement. Would this be a bad decision to specifically choose TA funding rather than RA funding?

  • Do you have to make a decision now or could you make a decision as you go and have a sense of how much you like TAing vs how much time it takes in your particular program? Feb 5, 2022 at 22:14
  • @overfullhbox I can make the decision later. I TAd as an undergrad so I know I like teaching Feb 5, 2022 at 22:40
  • I think it is fair that the experience will be very different - perhaps busier, or get less done - but I don't think a TAing causes a direct effect on graduation time, per se. Feb 6, 2022 at 3:18
  • @JobHunter69: My point was more about the relative balance between how much you like it and how much time it takes. If you can decide later, you can just start with what you think works best, and then switch if it's not working as well Feb 6, 2022 at 3:41
  • 3
    There are so many variables in how long a PhD takes that it might be hard to determine a 'correct' answer.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 6, 2022 at 3:47

4 Answers 4


This might depend on the field, but, in general it probably has only a minimal effect. Research in many fields takes time to "mature" and "ripen" in the mind. And serving several hours a week as a TA still leaves you time to think the deep thoughts that lead to breakthroughs. In fact, taking a break from deep thought to teach or assist in a course might actually be good for the overall effort.

Most people don't have an option, however. Funding is necessary. Most of the funding (most fields) is TA funding, since lots of course assistance is needed in the undergraduate program.

I once held a fellowship that was free of any obligations. I was no more "productive" then than later when I was a TA.

And, if you want a career in academia, spending some time as a TA is probably a plus when it comes time to look for a job.

In computer science, however, I'd expect a small effect. You need to take breaks of some kind from research in any case. Even professors do that.

  • 2
    Right but in this case for me the RA/TA funding is for 20 hrs a week. TAing 20 hrs vs RAing 20 hrs seems like a big difference to me for affecting graduation. In fact, it would seem to me that phd students who do not get RA funding are at a huge disadvantage Feb 5, 2022 at 21:52
  • I think you indicated that only one semester was required, though. And, I think in some cases an RA slot doesn't really contribute to your own research anyway.
    – Buffy
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:35
  • Right my question was whether I should choose to do extra semesters of TA. Why do you say an RA slot doesn't contribute to my own research? Doesn't it allow you to publish work relevant to your areas, and then allow you to include it in your thesis/disseration so that you can finish it earlier? Feb 5, 2022 at 22:39
  • Note that an RA isn't like a fellowship. Normally you assist a professor (or group) in their research, which may not be directly related to your own. Contrast "Research assistantship" with "Research _fellowship". But, for an academic career, some teaching experience is valuable.
    – Buffy
    Feb 5, 2022 at 22:55
  • 1
    Doesn't the advisor usually work on the same things the student work on? I thought most of the times the projects were directly related to the student's thesis Feb 5, 2022 at 23:37

Not really. It's because of the nature of research work. This extra time you get from not doing teaching work can matter if you know what to do next in your research, and that something is straightforward and time-consuming. However, much more often in research:

  • You don't know what to do next.
  • You have some idea what to do next, but don't know how to do it.
  • You know what to do next and how to do it, but it'll be done in an hour, and then you don't know what to do next.

When you don't know what to do next, then having more time to spend on research isn't very helpful because it's just you staring at the computer screen. That's when having something else - whether it's teaching, designing experiments/courses, or reading Academia.SE - is a nice backup. It could even be better, because quite often when one thinks again about a problem after several hours one has new insights.

Off the top of my head the extra time is most helpful when you are writing your thesis, because that's actually something that is straightforward and time-consuming. This doesn't extrapolate to regular papers, because in my experience even if you are the person responsible for writing the paper, you can usually complete a draft quite fast; the real time-consuming part is getting feedback from co-authors.

See also this question: Is TA-ing worth the opportunity cost (of having more time for research)?


It shouldn't matter that much if you have good time management skills. However, in my experience a CS TA have a bit more work than a math TA, which I was. You write automated graders, deal with hundreds of students bugging you to debug their code etc etc.

Also, it was always a nice little break for me to teach undergrad math when I was doing my own research but I am not sure the same would apply to a CS PhD student. It might be draining to working on your programming/simulation all day and then do some more of that for an undergrad class, which would be most likely uninspiring.

On the flip side, if you get RA funding/fellowship that could come with its own pressure/deadline. Your supervisor could make you work at the lab 40+ hr/week and I have heard horror stories of overworked PhD students from EEC/CS/Engineering field.


As others have noted this may be field- and department-specific. When I was in U.S. grad school in mathematics, non-U.S. students took roughly one semester less than U.S. students to graduate (on average) and it was widely thought that TAing was the reason. (Ex-U.S. students were more likely to have external funding, e.g. from their home countries, meaning that they did not have to teach as often.)

As others have said, TAing is generally not an enormous commitment of time, and if you plan on continuing in academia it certainly helps to get used to balancing teaching against other responsibilities, but the hours do add up. You might ask students in your program about the actual circumstances of TA responsibilities - for example, whether it is expected that TAs also attend lecture in the classes that they TA for (sometimes the case), about the average number of students that a TA is responsible for (may vary widely by school and class within a school), the burdens of grading, and so on. You didn't ask, but for better or worse I do not think TAing experience beyond the minimum is a material factor in most academic job searches, even at teaching-oriented schools.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .