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I am a fourth-year undergraduate math major. I come from a not-so-big school, where the mathematics department is not funded that well. Recently, a professor asked if I would be interested in becoming a TA for a course being taught next semester (it is pretty unusual for undergraduate students to become TAs at my university.) As it turns out, the position shall be unpaid (simply because the department lacks funding, and does not compensate even some PhD student TAs.)

I shall be applying to graduate schools in the US & Canada this year, and the only reason I considered the TA position is that it could perhaps make me a more competitive applicant to PhD programs. Is that true? I'm sure I'll have opportunities to be a TA later in my life, especially as a graduate student, so I'm not missing out even if I let go of this opportunity.

Besides, I shall be busy with coursework and grad-school applications this semester, and the TA-ship would only add extra work and take away time. I'm not sure if it would be worth the investment of my time to become a TA this semester, just to add to my CV for grad-school applications.

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    You have to make the judgement call. You seem to have captured the important factors.
    – Buffy
    Jul 27 at 15:53
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    What work would you do as a TA? It could range from just grading papers to actual classroom teaching, and the nature of the work could affect its value for your grad school applications. Jul 27 at 16:00
  • @AndreasBlass It's just grading this time around, and leading a few tutorial sections. Jul 27 at 17:05
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    It seems like your real question is "will being a TA make me more competitive for graduate school?" Too late to change the question now that answers have been posted, but if this gets closed, you might consider reposting along these lines. (Also, if you are asking about India, you might want to highlight that more prominently.)
    – cag51
    Jul 27 at 23:05
  • You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/134440/…
    – Allure
    Jul 28 at 1:31

3 Answers 3

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You should not. This is an exploitative offer.

and the only reason I considered the TA position is that it could perhaps make me a more competitive applicant to PhD programs

Anecdotally, I have heard from professors that this doesn't factor into decisions at all. However, this could be very different in your field/sub-field. And you are correct there are likely opportunities later to get teaching experience.

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    I strongly agree: this is exploitative... and sort-of meta-exploitative in that it allows the institution to continue under the impression that it can get free labor... rather than spend effort getting funding to pay workers. Bad. Jul 27 at 17:53
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    And I strongly disagree that this is the right answer. There is value in things other than money. It might be a valuable experience. It might lead to insight in the subject. There are lots of ways it might have value. None of them might mean anything to you, the writer here , personally, but it is bad advice for the OP who is in a better position to judge the value, hence my comment to the question and my vote to close. Mostly, I disagree with the strength of your advice. It isn't for you or me to judge it exploitative. I suggest the OP not blindly take this advice but think it through.
    – Buffy
    Jul 27 at 18:26
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    @Buffy Nope, sorry. Uncompensated labor is wrong. This is the institution and the professor trying to take advantage of a student to do a job that should be paid. Jul 27 at 18:34
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    I never said TAing would be valueless in any of the ways you mention. Jul 27 at 18:34
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    @Buffy, to my mind, part of the socio-economic issue is about who can afford to do unpaid work. Not everyone. To "enable" that system, even if it profits oneself, is not-so-good, I think. But, yes, complicated. Jul 27 at 18:44
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From the standpoint of US graduate admissions in math, you should certainly decline. I have served on our Ph.D. admissions committee (I am in the US), and admissions are based primarily on research potential. Teaching experience is not required or expected.

This teaching experience would help your application marginally, if at all. From the standpoint of your grad school applications, the other time commitments you describe are much more important.

The only reason I'd consider taking this on is if you were extremely interested in the job for its own sake. (And even if you were, the lack of pay is objectionable.) As you say you'll have opportunities in the future, so I would recommend focusing on your own studies for now.

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    Thanks so much! Your answer really helps. It's nice to hear from someone who has previously served on a graduate admissions committee. Jul 28 at 3:08
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Without really knowing all the details and the personalities, it is difficult to make this decision for you.

It is true that you can gain good experience from being a TA. For starters, you will be understanding the subject matter much better, even if you were only grading.

I am not so sure about making you a more competitive applicant as so few undergraduates are ever allowed to be a TA at a university that can pay for its students' labor.

Your last clause gives the reasons why you might want to forego this. You will be busy with other things and TAing can be a time drain, especially if you like it.

You did not mention the effects and the importance of the relationship with the professor that asks you to consider TAing.

In balance and in my personal view, you should find a nice way of saying no.

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