15

As an international TA getting accustomed to the landscape of my University, I managed to earn the ire of my instructor/professor for having not shown up during the discussion/office hours.

In a strongly worded mail, he has sought an explanation while reprimanding me saying that another instance of this would lead to serious consequences.

I am afraid that I may lose my assistantship as I curse my folly for being so careless. I have apologized to the Professor over mail but from the tone of his reply, he seems to have not considered it. Please suggest how I must handle this predicament.

  • 16
    Honestly. How else? – keshlam Sep 25 '15 at 3:44
  • 23
    And avoid silly excuses like "As an international TA getting accustomed to the landscape of my University". Being international has nothing to do for you not showing up to work you are paid to do. – Alexandros Sep 25 '15 at 7:50
  • 21
    @Alexandros: Well, that depends - to me, at least from reading this question, it isn't at all obvious that a TA should be present during "discussion/office hours". While there is no real distinction between RAs and TAs in my place, and rather, everyone does some research and some teaching, whenever I co-organized a lecture, I was never required to be present during the professor's office hours (or even the lecture itself, for that matter). The OP should clarify whether this requirement of being present was clearly laid out to them, e.g. in their work contract. – O. R. Mapper Sep 25 '15 at 9:00
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    If your writing style is usually as in this question, and if you would have written in like manner to me, expressions such as "earn the ire", "the landscape of my university", and "I curse my folly" would have made me feel mocked instead of receiving an apology, or at least as dealing with someone who is impossible to get through to. – gnometorule Sep 25 '15 at 10:45
  • 5
    @QuoraFeans: Ooh ... I (and maybe others here?) interpreted that in a far more figurative sense: I took the "landscape" to mean the general network and structure of dependencies, connections, and processes in the organization of the university as the OP's new social environment, not literally the geographical topology of the physical campus. (Not saying that is the intended interpretation; it just seemed the most straightforward and obvious one to me. The possibility that "landscape" might be meant in the literal sense didn't come to my mind.) The OP should clarify what was actually meant. – O. R. Mapper Sep 25 '15 at 21:53
37

The best way to handle this is to acknowledge that you've screwed up, and to explain how you're going to make sure that you won't miss any class meetings and other events in the future. If there's a justification for why you missed the event (for instance, if you had an examination for a class you were enrolled in overlapping with office hours), you can mention that.

  • +1 for "explain how you're going to make sure that you won't miss any class meetings and other events in the future". – mhwombat Sep 25 '15 at 9:37
  • 26
    +1. Explain how you'll do better, not just explain that you'll do better. – JeffE Sep 25 '15 at 10:37
27

I second the other advice given here, and in addition I recommend that you make your apology in person rather than by e-mail if you have a chance.

I have been in this situation before, as the professor. I was pretty upset at first, but once I met with the TA he sincerely apologized, explained why it happened without trying to excuse his behavior, and said the mistake wouldn't be repeated. Within two minutes I was no longer angry at all.

  • 3
    In-person explanations appeased two out of two of my college professors for my newborn-baby-fatigue-induced-shenanigans as a GTA (of which there were two, one per professor). And two out of two of those explanations did not use newborn-baby-fatigue-induced excuses. The apologies were abject, with a promise that the mistake wouldn't be repeated, and the following discussions were unrelated, interesting, and relationship-enhancing. And I should add that even today I know there was no good excuse, and I was an idiot. They were both my friends afterward, and told others I was a decent instructor. – JackArbiter Sep 26 '15 at 4:34
11

As aeismail said, it is a good idea to admit you made a mistake, and to make sure it doesn't happen again. It's equally important to communicate that you know how serious the matter is, and that you don't come off as downplaying what happened. Don't be defensive! You missed work, which you're getting paid for, when people were counting on you, without making appropriate accommodations. Your professor will be looking to see that you take your job seriously.

Example of a good apology:

I'm so sorry I wasn't there. I still feel new around here and am still getting used to everything, and I made a mistake. I know how important it is that I be there when people are expecting me, and it won't happen again.

Example of a bad apology:

Sorry I wasn't there. It won't happen again, but let's not overreact: everything turned out alright, didn't it?

Note that it's easier than you might think to drift toward the latter in the heat of the moment if people are threatening consequences.

  • 3
    "I still feel new around here and am still getting used to everything" is not part of a good apology. "I'm new" is not an excuse for forgetting to show up to do work you agreed to do! – David Richerby Sep 25 '15 at 8:40
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    @DavidRicherby: As it stands, the OP does not state whether or not they were aware they should have been present. As such, it is not clear to me whether they consciously "agreed to do" that work. (See also my more elaborate comment on the question.) – O. R. Mapper Sep 25 '15 at 9:06
  • 4
    @O.R.Mapper You're right. Being new can be a valid reason for not knowing one was supposed to attend a certain type of meeting, especially if it's "obvious" so nobody thought to tell the new person. If that was the reason, it should definitely be mentioned. – David Richerby Sep 25 '15 at 9:16
  • Very much on point, especially with regard to the last sentence -- heat of the moment or not, it's something I in particular often do unconsciously, along with saying 'you too' in response to the waiter telling me to have a nice meal. – Vandermonde Sep 29 '15 at 23:52
6

Please suggest how I must handle this predicament.

Apologize, and don't do it again.

3

What information had you received prior to the discussion/office hours that informed you that you had to be there?

If the answer is none then stand your ground: "I'm regret that discussion session was compromised by my absence however I never received any information indicating I should be present. The only relevant communications I've received were the e-mails from W dated X, Y and Z, none of which indicated that my presence was expected at these discussion sessions. Now that I know that I am expected to attend I will be present at all future sessions."

If the answer if you had the information and failed to act on it then apologise and make sure it doesn't happen again: "I am very sorry not to have attended the discussion session, this was entirely my own error and I will make sure it never happens again."

The most important thing is simply to be reliable in future.

  • 7
    "The only relevant communications I've received ... none of which indicated that my presence was expected." That's a dangerous line to take, unless you are 100% certain the statement "All TAs are expected to attend office hours" is not hidden on page 293 of some admin document that you should have read in full before you agreed to it by becoming a TA. A simple "I was not aware that I was required to attend" is (presumably) a factual statement, and less confrontational. – alephzero Sep 25 '15 at 14:25
  • If you did not have the information (ie were not told), a alternative line to "I did not receive any communication informing me I was expected to be there." is "I'm sorry, I must have skip over the message that told me it to be there." that way you are absorbing the blame yourself, rather than suggesting someone else failed. Even if someone else screwed up, you come out better by just taking on all the blame yourself (even if unfairly). – Lyndon White Sep 26 '15 at 2:51
1

The first thing to do would be to accept and apologise as suggested by @aeismail. Then you should probably make up for it by doing some more work the next week or making a pleasing amount of progress in your research and produce the outcomes to your professor.

1

Years I developed a framework for the ideal apology -

  1. Say you are sorry.
  2. Acknowledge that it was your fault.
  3. Acknowledge that you impacted or hurt the other person and they are right to be angry with you.
  4. Promise the action will not be repeated.

What's purposely missing from the above is an excuse. I suppose if a parent passes away, it might slip your mind to contact your appointments, but even so, as a general set of rules, avoid excuses.

-3

For the time being, do whatever it takes in order that you do not get sacked. Technical advice for that has already been given.

If it is indeed true that the instructor already rejected a reasonable apology from you, then work on an exit strategy from the employment relationship with that instructor. I always demand reliability and meticulousness from those whom I work with. However, mistakes happen, and when they do, it is important to limit the damage and then move on quickly. There is no need to humiliate anyone for making a mistake, like demanding multiple apologies. (If mistakes by the same person accumulate, the situation changes. But this seems not to be the case here.)

  • 1
    "exit strategy from that group" You mean, don't TA for the same professor again? It doesn't sound like there is any connection with the research group (question says "course instructor", not "advisor" or "supervisor") – Ben Voigt Sep 25 '15 at 23:32
  • 4
    I downvoted because I don't see that the professor has behaved unreasonably, or demanded multiple apologies. When I have TAs working for me in a course, part of their responsibilities are to hold office hours (on their own; I have my own office hours in my own office). If I heard from students that they had shown up to the TA's office hours to find that the TA was absent, the first step would be a strongly-worded e-mail making clear that their funding depended on doing their job. If their response didn't indicate they understood the seriousness of what happened, I would continue to be worried. – Tom Church Sep 26 '15 at 1:27
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    @Tom: my advice was based on this part of the question: "I have apologized to the Professor over mail but from the tone of his reply, he seems to have not considered it." I have changed the wording of my answer to: "If it is indeed true, ..." – Lasse Kliemann Sep 26 '15 at 10:05
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper This answer makes sense in an industry work environment. There, you work on an exit strategy from the employment relationship when you have an unreasonable boss. I am not too sure a TA would do that just because he worked for an unreasonable instructor. After all, a TA is a part tim job and the OP is most likely an international graduate student. – scaaahu Sep 26 '15 at 11:03
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper The way I understand how it works in industry when you find a different job is much easier than finding a TA job in Academia. If I understand it correctly, the department assigns TAs to professorss. A TA hardly has much to say when change a professor he works for. Maybe I am wrong about this. Please correct me if you will? – scaaahu Sep 26 '15 at 11:40

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