I'm working as a TA now, and I've found that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time on my TA-ship. Is this normal? Furthermore, is this expected? I'm worried that my research career will suffer because of my lack of research productivity.

  • 2
    Can you quantify the "inordinate amount of time" ? Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 8:41
  • You should give more information about your situation. How many courses are you TA'ing? How much time are you spending on your TA assignment per week? How often do you have to TA (one semester, every semester, one quarter per year, etc.)? Are you TAing for your professor, or for someone else in the department?
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 10:39
  • This is for a single course, and "an inordinate amount of time" is ~eight hours a week. TAing for some random professor in the department.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 11:45
  • 8
    That is not an inordinate amount of time.
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 13:25

4 Answers 4


I suppose it depends on the factors that are causing you to spend more time teaching than you think you should. You should talk to (1) the other TAs and (2) the course leader/director. Find out what is expected and what others are doing.

If you are a relatively new graduate student, then I think it's normal to spend more time teaching and preparing for your teaching. As you start teaching the same courses repeatedly, the time you have to spend in preparation will decrease.

If you think of the time you are teaching as working on a craft that you will use for the rest of your career, then it is time well spent.


In Canada, TA's usually have a contract that specifies how many hours they should be working per week / TA term. If you are going way over that you could talk to the course coordinator.

Your supervisor may also get upset if you are spending a large proportion away from you research project, which his / her grant is paying you to work on. This is especially true if you are approaching your reclassification exam -- assuming you are going that route.

  • That's interesting... we have no such thing (that I know of) in my university, and I'd wager in the entire US. That's a new one to me.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 11:46
  • @eykanal: Wow I'm surprised. TA's are usually unionised here as well.
    – GWW
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 14:14
  • @GWW Wow! TAs are unionized?
    – dearN
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 19:12
  • That's it, I'm moving to Canada.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 19:27
  • @DNA: Yep, here are some examples: cupe3902.org and gtaunion.com/gta . They usually require the number of hours a course will require, compensation, and such to be listed.
    – GWW
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 19:34

I know what you feel like. When I was a fresh TA, I spent an "inordinate" amount of time with my TA-ship. I came to understand that both my research and my teaching assignments did have equal priority and I couldn't neglect one and give preference to the other.

There were always weeks when my teaching load was more manageable and I could progress my research and vice versa.

Of course, how the dynamics of your advisor affect this have a major implication on what "inordinate" would mean.

Here was my experience as a TA the first time I did it:

  1. Taught two sections of a lab, each requiring about 2 hours of lecture (4hrs total), 5 hours of preparation (5 hours total), 1 office hour each (2 hours total) and 2 hours grading each (3-4 hours total as I graded the same thing for both sections)
  2. Graded 200 homework assignments a week for a course what was out of my specialization (8-10 hours a week)

    Total TA time per week ~ 25.

I also had to do research and that time commitment was highly variable!

I hope that generally gives you perspective.

Some background about me:

  1. Been in grad school since Fall 2006.
  2. Pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering.
  3. International student.

Depending on the course, you may have to invest up to two days of your working week to TA. If the course involves homework assignment, you will have to prepare them, grade them, and give them feedback for every mistake they do (they are learning). Be extremely careful when such tasks are requested, they are a potential career killer. I don't know if there are legal requirement to respect on this regard, but you are not going to have any friend if the professor has to grade two hundred students tests a week instead of delegating the task to his minions (postdocs)

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