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I am a first-year international master student in a US statistics department. I am offered a 10-hour teaching assistant appointment next semester. I am considering taking it. I have no idea how to weight the benefit and cost of the appointment.

Background information:

  1. I plan to apply PhD next fall.
  2. I plan to take 14-credit course next semester.

Costs (that I can come up with):

  1. Potential overload

Benefits:

  1. Improve my English skills
  2. Half-coverage of tuition and salary (important to life yet trivial to PhD application)

What are the other cost and benefit of taking a TA appointment? In particular, how would TA experience affect PhD application?

  • 3
    Personally, the knowledge I've gained from being a TA cannot be underestimated. Even from basic level courses, you actually improve your knowledge of the field more than you'd think. The important thing here is, I think, that when you're going to teach something, it is no longer sufficient just to read the material and think that "okay, this is how it is". You will, instead, constantly find yourself thinking: "okay, this is how it is. But why?". That consolidates, if you will, your knowledge, and by teaching something you think you know you will realize you didn't really know a lot before! – hejseb Nov 26 '14 at 11:46
  • With a 10-hour only appointment, are you going to have any teaching duties or will you mainly be grading tests/labs/homework? If the latter, could you work with the professor to guest lecture once or twice? Without a teaching component, that may affect its usage on your CV. – mkennedy Nov 26 '14 at 18:07
  • Personally, I have found working with students during my TA office hours to be extremely satisfying. It's a way for me to give back in my academic community. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 '14 at 19:13
  • share my passion in the classroom – user37559 Jul 23 '15 at 8:54
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    I suggest a change of the title to something like "What is the benefit of becoming a teaching assistant" or "... taking a teaching assistant position". "taking teaching assistant" is ambiguous in that it could also refer to employing someone as a teaching assistant ("taking someone into one's services as a teaching assistant"). – O. R. Mapper Jul 23 '15 at 10:27
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Being a TA has helped throughout my Ph.D. I would highly recommend becoming a TA for the following reasons.

  • You get paid.
  • You learn teaching skills
  • You strengthen your knowledge.
  • It's good for the C.V.

First and foremost you need to fund your life and studies. Although being a TA might not offer the greatest of pay and may take a lot of time. It does seem to pay reasonably well for the amount of effort you have to put in.

Secondly but possibly one of the most underrated things about being a TA. You learn to communicate, and you learn to communicate and learn how to teach.

By communicate, I don't mean just how to improve your English, but how to engage with students. Teaching skills are great, and if you want to go into academia or wish to go in a role where you have to explain concepts to others this will come in handy.

OK, you're teaching at undergrad level. So you may think you know everything. You may actually be surprised that some undergrads may ask some really advanced level questions. Also you may find yourself recapping on some content which you just swept over in your own undergraduate degree. Recovering content, you could find you have a better understanding of it.

Since being a TA. I have had several offers to teach in academic and commercial organisations, and have become a visiting lecturer at another institution based on some of my TA activities.

In terms of cons:

  • Time

Teaching, marking etc takes time. You may only be teaching for an hour of time, but actually its 4 hours worth of work. From preparing slides, teaching, marking coursework, meetings about students progress with academic staff etc.

I would suggest you give it a go, its only 10 hours after all. If you find it's too much you can always say that it's too much and you will be unable to continue being a TA as you feel your studies are suffering.

Best of luck and I hope this has been of some help.

  • Can I drop the TA duty in the mid of the semester? – John Hass Nov 28 '14 at 0:52
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    @J.A.F this totally depends on your institution. I believe if it is having a negative effect on your own progress, most institutions will be understanding of this. However, this it is best to check this with your institution. – jonhurlock Dec 2 '14 at 3:28
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    @JohnHass: I think in most departments this would be frowned upon. Teaching assignments are usually made for the entire semester, and it's difficult to replace someone who quits partway through; this is disruptive for the students in the class. If you agree to do it, you should really be committed to complete the semester, barring some emergency. Someone who quits mid-semester is not likely to be given additional opportunities in the future. – Nate Eldredge Jul 24 '15 at 19:42
  • Regarding being good for the CV, this depends for what purpose. For research-focused positions this is often given much less importance then research achievements, so if you could have gotten an additional publication in the time you spent on teaching, it would not be good for the CV. – Bitwise Jul 24 '15 at 20:06
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Usually people take TAs because they need the money. If you want to get a teaching job in the future it may help to show that you have teaching experience (keep records of what you did and how well it worked.)

If you do not need the money, I think you should use the time to improve your research and grades instead.

1

Another point which can be added to your pros list is that by teaching you are effectively giving back to the community. Consider that somewhere sometime someone invested some of their time to teach you. You now have the chance to do the same for the future generations. This is an argument that somewhat holds for all teaching duties in general, be it for assistantships or full time professorships.

Personally I'm not at a teaching level yet. Nevertheless I always consider giving back in the pros list when I am asked to supervise interns.

1

I'm seeing some misleading comments about the time commitment and feel this warrants more than a comment, so here it is:

"just 10 hours per week" is misleading. Often times professors are told to make sure they don't exceed the total number of hours for the term, so in order to save hours for midterm and final exam grading, they will reduce the actual number of hours in a non-exam week. This means as TA you will be spending a lot of time grading precisely during the times when you yourself will be taking exams!

1

In many departments, including mine, when you apply for a postdoctoral position, you'll have to provide a reference letter about your teaching. And the people making the hiring decisions pay attention to those letters, not just to the letters about research. So you'd better have done some teaching. And if your first teaching assignment didn't go well, you should try again and do better.

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Ten hours a week is not bad, you know! Most TAships are 20 hours a week.

It can give you some balance in your life, and having it offered to you is an honor.

Being a teaching assistant is a very common thing; I have never seen this be what makes or breaks a grad student.

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