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My adviser is writing a book for a course in computer science he will be teaching next fall and I will be the teaching assistant for that course. He wants me to review the book and go through the problems and give him feedback on both.

He didn't say that I will get rewarded or recognized for my work in reviewing the book or the exercises associated with it, but I am guessing that my name will be mentioned in the thank you notes section at the beginning of the book, as usual with most published books based on courses. So my questions are as follows

  • What benefits do I get from doing this review, if any?
  • Also, is this work considered part of being a teaching assistant?
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    Giving professors feedback on assigned problems is a very reasonable thing to ask a TA to do. The fact that the problems are part of a book the professor is writing shouldn't change this. – Peter Shor May 21 '17 at 14:56
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    If you've mean that you are worried you are being taken advantage of, don't be. This is pretty normal. – The Great Duck May 21 '17 at 19:22
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    Have a look at your contract - it may cover tasks like reviewing or helping with teaching. In that case, do not forget to include your salary in the estimate of benefits you get. – cbeleites supports Monica May 22 '17 at 7:36
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    Will you be reviewing the book as part of your TA duties during the semester in which you are serving as TA, or does your professor expect you to do this review prior to you starting as TA ? – Matt Menzenski May 22 '17 at 13:47
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    If you are TA'ing the course, you are going to have to read the book anyway, and help students who are having difficulty understanding the material. This is an opportunity to help future you by making the book better before students get their hands on it. In your place, I would jump at the chance, even if I knew there was nothing else in it for me. – asgallant May 22 '17 at 22:13

10 Answers 10

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In questions like that, it is a good exercise to play it through being contrarian, e.g. as follows: "I do not get any rewards for helping my adviser. I am not going to tell him that there are errors in the problems when I encounter them - let him sort that out himself, it's not my business. And if I were to do it, I should mention that I expect to be named as at least sub-author, or prominently in the acknowledgements, or I certainly won't do it."

This is (hopefully) slightly exaggerated, but do play it through - and now adopt your supervisor's perspective in how your advising relation will look like if he sees your view this way and decides to treat your advisory relation in the same fashion.

Importantly, note that you TA the course anyway, and will encounter flaws in the exercises, so it is not likely to be undue extra work to help him find errors in the book.

It would be a different story if you had a strained/unhelpful relation with your advisor, but you mentioned nothing in the question to indicate you have.

Bottom line: you may go for a minimal effort in helping your adviser - but do not expect more than a minimal effort in return then.

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    If you do this, tread carefully. The person with the most control over your life is your spouse, but your PhD advisor is a close second. You're completely within your rights to negotiate benefits, but take care to do so politely and humbly. – LastStar007 May 22 '17 at 4:51
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    @LastStar007 I like the comparison of an advisor with a spouse. The point is exactly, that, if you do negotiate benefits, this will colour your interaction from that point onwards, and OP needs to know whether this is really what they want. Hint: "Tread carefully", as you so aptly say. – Captain Emacs May 22 '17 at 7:47
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    As others have remarked: "... and decides to treat your advisory relation in the same fashion." +1 – Pysis May 22 '17 at 17:51
  • @CaptainEmacs I like that you put in the "same fashion" warning. It should also be heeded that your advisor has contacts in your university, your academic field, journals you might publish to, etc. and therefore can influence your life in ways you would never imagine. – LastStar007 May 22 '17 at 21:24
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    Reading the question, my immediate answer was "your benefit is that your advisor will like you better." That's worth a more than money, most of the time. – Jeffiekins May 22 '17 at 22:01
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You'll gain his trust, if you do a good job. You will also gain a deeper understanding of the material as you'll read it thoroughly not just to learn it, but also having to think about how the material is presented. Don't expect anything else.

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    This. Since OP is going to be teaching assistant, having a solid grasp on the course should help him with this task. Basically, reviewing it now gives OP a chance to make their own job easier. – Mast May 21 '17 at 7:04
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It should be obvious, but I will explain this nevertheless. Reasons for:

  • You are TA for the course. Who is the second most appropriate person to review the book for this particular course? First one is the professor, well, the second one is you.
  • Poorly written book will be your problem too, as students may expect you to explain things that are not properly explained in the book. So it is in your best interest to help the professor produce a good textbook, it will make your life easier too.
  • Undoubtedly the professor trusts you enough to ask for your feedback. Be nice and show him that he is right in trusting you.

Now, possible reasons against:

  • You are not really into your TA job and this is only additional burden for you.
  • You are not confident you master the field enough to be TA, so you are not confident you should give feedback on the book.

If any of two latter are the case, you are right not to bother with the book, but on the other hand, you should think really really hard whether you want to be TA on this course. I do assume that the rejection of the offer to review a book will be interpreted in this sense by the professor as well.

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Since you have chosen a career in the academia by enrolling on a PhD course, I suppose your main motivation is the advancement of science. Here you are given a unique chance to uphold academic excellence in your field by serving as another pair of eyes for the forthcoming book.

This is a great honor and an opportunity to be a part of what might become a standard component of the academic curriculum of your future colleagues for years to come. Other answers bring up important aspects of this work, but the question sounds as if you do not realize how your contribution would go towards the fulfillment of your goals. Review the reasons that made you embark on a PhD course. Remember that service to science is often selfless.

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You can also regard the peer review aspect of it as an important part of your PhD training.

When collaborating on a paper you will need very similar skills. The lead author may be senior to you, so you need to learn to point out to someone senior the things that aren't clear to the reader. When writing your thesis you need to be able to read your own work critically, so if you don't collaborate on papers written by others during your PhD, this is a chance to develop those skills.

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Critiquing the work of others is a great way of learning. It forces you to think very deeply about the material and about how best to communicate it; it also forces you to think about how to express your criticisms and improvement suggestions in a constructive way, which is a great skill to have. The experience will be invaluable when you later come to write a book or course of your own. In addition, you are improving the quality of the course which means you are making yourself a valuable (and hopefully valued) member of the academic community.

I would advise you not to think about what reward or recognition you will get from a particular activity, but rather to think about whether the activity is of benefit to the community, in which case reward and recognition will surely follow. (The same applies to those answering questions on StackOverflow, incidentally...)

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As in some other answers: this activity will help you, and it will help others, and it surely ought not be a "burden", because you'd need to be doing the same thing, effectively, for any text assigned.

True, if the initial product is slip-shod, so that it only becomes usable after your and others' inputs, you are being "used" a bit. But... no, there's scant way to monetize this.

I myself don't ask my students to critique or proofread things, although I make open invitations, exactly because I do not want there to be any impression of obligation. Not all advisors are direct or forthright, or perhaps believable in their claimed expectations. My riff is that I claim to not trust anyone but myself... but would welcome "suggestions". :)

I think the real point is that a very-serious engagement with the material would serve you well in terms of professional competence, future teaching... and scoring some brownie points with your advisor.

Try to visualize it as being a thing that you might have wanted to do anyway, so that the fact you'll not be paid, or maybe not be given credit, is irrelevant. After all, we really don't do these things for the monetization, no matter what Central Administration's software faculty-evaluation (etc) software pretends to mandate.

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In addition to all the other answers, you will learn how to find mistakes in a textbook, which is a vital skill if you're ever going to teach a course yourself, or if you're ever going to write a textbook yourself.

Please note that if you were asked to write a review of this textbook for the benefit of someone other than your advisor, e.g. for a book-review column or to inform a publishing decision, that would be a conflict of interest and you should turn it down. I mention this because your question title is ambiguous.

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The main point of having a University is to combining research with teaching. And this also holds for about everyone working at such a place - or should at least. A PhD in a much industrialized environment may be a different story.

It is not uncommon to see a professor transform his lecture notes into a book. This will not make him any rich, really. Just think about how small the audience for an advanced book is. It is our global society that benefits from the book. So, thank you!

You can expect the book to be a better than average kind of lecture material. It should be fun, both with the students and with your advisor. Discussing why a problem the professor decided to present in a particular way and not one that you have seen elsewhere may be very educational. And you should always give feedback, even when this is just some power point slides.

I seem not to get the point of your question. If you are saying that the quality of the nascent book is too premature to be exposed to the students, then this may be some good feedback to give - constructively. Just be happy that it is not a book of someone completely different that your professor's course is following - same work, but nobody to discuss with.

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In addition to what has already been said here, I offer this. When you go on the job market, there may be places that wish they could hire your advisor, but they can't. So they'd like to hire someone who is an expert on the most recent work of your advisor. When you revise your advisor's book, you likely become the second most expert person on the topic, and potentially very hirable.

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