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As an instructor, I have been fortunate to have had some great TAs, who went above and beyond what was expected of them, and put in a lot of effort to ensure students' learning.

I would really like to do more than just say "Thank you." How can I show my appreciation to them after the class ends?

(The situation may also be slightly complicated by the fact that some of the TAs I'm thinking of aren't physically located near me. I'm in the US, but I also teach as a "remote" instructor for a university in Europe, and I get TAs there. So I would like answers addressing both local and non-local TAs, if it matters.)

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    Write a great reference letter for them. You will likely need to talk to them about their research a little. – StrongBad Feb 6 '15 at 9:19
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    @StrongBad I'm a PhD student, everything I've read on this website says I'm not credible in writing reference letters for a position at or above my own. – ff524 Feb 6 '15 at 9:20
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    To comment on recommendation letters: I think it is the way to go but ask someone else to support you writing them so that they have a foundation in the staff. I am sure someone close to your research or teaching could add their name to the letter to validate your writing. I have not seen this done but would not hesitate if I was asked to support someone this way. – Peter Jansson Feb 6 '15 at 11:09
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    Amazon gift card? – earthling Feb 6 '15 at 13:56
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    I know some professors who make it a custom to treat their TAs to a lunch or dinner as a "job well done" celebration. If you have contacts at your remote location, you can have them take the TAs out. – Raphael Feb 6 '15 at 14:59
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For TAs located physically close, the well-established way of showing appreciation around here is by inviting them to a joint informal dinner with good food and plenty of (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages, usually with a joint pub crawl afterwards. This would typically happen at the end of the semester, optimally directly after finals, and provide a nice finishing mark on a semester of hard work and (maybe) some fun and camaraderie. These events would typically last to the early morning, leading to extremely empty offices the day after.

I am lucky to work in an university which happily picks up the bill for such events, but in previous places we have had all instructors throw money into a hat to finance this. It is not a celebration if the TAs have to pay for themselves.

Note that the celebrations are: (1) entirely voluntary (nobody needs to come, nobody needs to stay), and (2) as informal as possible.

Edit: that being said, I think the more interesting part about your question is how to show appreciation to remote TAs, and I have no good answer for this.

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    Is this a European thing? While in the US lunch/dinner for TAs sometimes happens, I've never heard of all-night pub crawls celebrating the end of teaching a course. In fact that level of fraternity seems more appropriate for the final night of a conference than for instructor-TA bonding. Perhaps I've just been involved in the wrong courses? Or maybe no one invited me... – user4512 Feb 6 '15 at 21:58
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    @ChrisWhite It naturally tends to happen more with younger instructors / professors, but it certainly is not uncommon around here. I think generally TAs and instructors are largely on a pretty jovial basis around here. – xLeitix Feb 6 '15 at 22:03
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This is not a complete answer, but just sharing my experience as TA.

I worked as a TA in Computer Graphics where 120 students were enrolled and each of them had to deliver 2 reports (20 pages) with their respective code. Me and the other TA helped marking the assignments, and it would have taken around a full week of work for our Professor to do it by himself.

In the end, we meet and went to have dinner at a nice restaurant that he paid, in order to thank us for our effort. It was not about the money paid in the restaurant, but more about the gesture of going together somewhere to have dinner felt as a big "Thank you".

Anyway, just leaving this here.

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I have far more industry than academic experience, but I think this is one case where an idea from industry may be useful. It is quite common, in my experience, for e.g. a sales manager to write a letter of appreciation to an engineer who has helped with a sale, with a copy to the engineer's manager. I've had such things mentioned during performance appraisals, and they seemed to help with getting pay raises.

The key currency in academic life is letters of recommendation rather than performance appraisals, but the same idea might work out. How about writing a letter or e-mail to each TA expressing your appreciation, with a copy to that TA's advisor? If you can say something specific about what that TA did, all the better. That is material the advisor can choose to use when it is time to write letters of recommendation, and they are searching for the right things to say about the former TA.

  • This is a great workaround for being too low on the totem pole to directly write a recommendation letter that is valued. The instructor can write (part of) the text but have it blessed by a tenured faculty. – Ben Voigt Feb 8 '15 at 0:38
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As stated in your comment providing your TAs with recommendation letter is not applicable to your case.

In addition to saying "Thank You", you would have another option to show that you care about them and in case of need for academic consultation (about courses, research topics, papers and etc.) they can count on you (whether now or in the future) and this means that in addition to keeping your academic connections with your TAs alive furthermore they would get a valuable source of information, expertise and support.

In case it is affordable and does not cost you so much money you can by them a number of small and not very expensive gifts; so that they would remember you and that semester as your TA whenever they see your gift!

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You can always spend money (either yours or your department's) and buy the TA's something they might like (e.g., dinner or a Starbucks gift card). I would limit the gift to 6 beers on my international beer scale. This, however, is the easy solution. Most TA's, are not doing it solely for the money and while a dinner would be appreciated, it is not nearly as valuable to them as other things you might be able to provide.

A great reference letter than speaks to both the TA's teaching and research abilities can be very valuable if there is enough difference in seniority between the instructor and TA. If there is not a big difference in seniority, you could still recommend the TA to whoever hired you to instruct the class. You could, for example, recommend they be given additional classes to TA or even to be an instructor.

If you are not in a position to write a letter of reference, there are still other things that can be done that are more helpful than dinner. For long-distance TA relationships, inviting the TA to give a research seminar at your university can be a valuable networking tool. Ideally, this would be paid for, at least partially, by your department, but even an unfunded invitation for a PhD student can be useful. You could also arrange to meet at a conference and introduce them to your network. You could also volunteer to read some drafts of their thesis/articles or be a sounding board for proposals.

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