I am an international student, and now pursuing my Ph.D in pure Math in a not very good (ranking 70+) and relatively small state university in U.S.

As usual, I am a supported TA, and I am wondering whether the teaching load here is too heavy.

The department supports about 50 TAs in total. There are two types of TA here. For those who have not passed the Speak Test (which is another awful thing), they can only serve as graders, and are expected to work 12 hours in grading hws per week. For those who passed the Speak Test, they have to teach 3 or 4 sessions of recitation every semester.

Based on my experience, I feel so tired after a whole week's work as TA that I have little time or energy to do research. And I once heard that in some (private) universities, a typical TA job consists only teaching two recitations per academic year...

My questions are the following. (To be precise, I only care about a TA duty in math major.)

  1. What does a typical TA duty (especially the working hours) look like in a state university and in a private university? Especially, is it true that a TA in a state university usually works longer in his/her TA duty than the one in the private university?

  2. Is the TA duty here reasonable compared with other state universities?

  • Related: Teaching Assistantships and research
    – ff524
    Oct 8, 2014 at 4:42
  • You may want to combine your question 1 and 3 into one question to prevent closure due to too many sub-questions.
    – Nobody
    Oct 8, 2014 at 4:45
  • 1
    All teaching assistants in the University of California system are limited to an average of 20 hours per week, but whether they TA every semester depends heavily on the program.
    – Tim
    Oct 8, 2014 at 8:12

3 Answers 3


Not sure if this data point is really deserving of being an answer, but:

I graduated from a top-25 math department at a fairly large state university 5 years ago. The standard TA assignment was 4 lower-division recitations (e.g. calculus) per semester. Our contract permitted us to be assigned up to 20 hours of teaching duties per week, though most weeks the assigned duties took significantly fewer hours. Students working as TAs for advanced courses (upper-division or graduate) were usually assigned 2 recitations, but were also expected to grade homework, etc.

So what you describe doesn't sound totally out of line, unless you are spending considerably more hours per recitation.


Yet another solitary data point: I'm a graduate teaching assistant at a state university. In our first year, we were tasked with 15 hours a week, either all working in our math learning center, or part in the MLC and part as a TA for a professor.

After the first year, once we've gotten credentials to teach, we shift to teaching 1 course a semester, 3 hours of mandatory office hours, and 4 hours in the MLC on general tutoring duty.

I haven't found either schedule to be particularly onerous. I'm not doing research yet, but the grad students who are doing research don't seem to have a problem with their duties that I've seen.

I have absolutely no idea how this compares to other public or private universities, but...there you are.


I'm at a small R1 university right now. For first year grad students, work may not be more than 5 hours a week. In the first year, we are expected to focus mostly on passing our prelims and getting used to grad school. The work consists of a calculus study hall and a few hours of one-on-one tutoring to students who are struggling with basic calculus.

From the second year onwards, we are assigned as TAs for a class. Here scheduled hours may not be more than 5 every week. Scheduled hours include recitations, office hours and mandatory attendance in the class. On top of that, we have grading and preparing for recitations. This cannot be more than 15 hours a week, and should be more like 8-12. If the total workload is more than 15 hours on average, and more than 20 hours on special occasions (midterms, finals etc) the instructor has to ease up on their demands on the TA or ask for a second one.

In our fourth or fifth year, we can choose to be the instructor for a class for one semester, to better prepare for future postdocs, and it is generally understood that during this semester the workload will be considerably higher (~30 hours).

My university is very strict when it comes to not letting professors take advantage of their TAs by overworking them, and an instructor continuing to demand more work than this from their TA has lead to them not being assigned classes with TAs anymore.

  • 1
    Most of this sounds reasonable, but: it should not take (even approximately) 30 hours to teach one class. Technically full time is 40 hours; let's say that 50 hours is more realistic for academic types. But virtually all academics are either teaching at least two classes per semester or teaching at least one class per semester and doing substantial research, service and administration on top of that. Every once in a while I've taught three courses per semester (and still done other stuff besides): I am clearly not putting in 90 hours per week on my teaching. Mar 1, 2015 at 2:21
  • Or to say it another way: this semester I am teaching two courses. Both of them are mathematically nontrivial for me (undergrad topology -- I'm not a topologist; graduate level topics course) and I've never taught either before. I am spending more time on my teaching than in any other semester I can think of. How much time? Maybe three hours a day, seven days a week? That's 20 hours for two classes. Mar 1, 2015 at 2:24
  • 3
    @PeteL.Clark But you're not a confused and inefficient grad student! You have a lot of experience preparing for classes. Clearly you're considering the wrong baseline here (though, 30 hours is quite a bit, even for a confused and inefficient grad student). Mar 1, 2015 at 2:36
  • @PeteL.Clark Well, it is the first time they are teaching, a class, they are typically the grad students who are extremely passionate about teaching: the type who want every single word in their lecture perfect, and on top of that they rarely teach classes that are large enough to warrant a TA, so all the grading and so on falls on them. 30 hours is the maximum amount of time though, not an average. I wasn't entirely clear about that.
    – user141592
    Mar 1, 2015 at 2:54
  • 1
    @PeteL.Clark: By the AMS criteria, Rice is a "large private university" (though I think of us as pretty small; their criteria concerns the number of PhD's awarded per year). But our graduate students generally teach exactly once during their time here, and the university is not enthusiastic about even that much teaching (for instance, our policy is that there has to be a section taught by someone with a PhD scheduled at the same time as any graduate student section). Students are paying a lot of money to go to a private university, after all... Mar 2, 2015 at 22:34

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