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Concurrently taking & TAing a course


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I'm a first year graduate student and am taking a class with a mix of upper level undergraduates and grad students.  The TA is also a first year grad student and is taking the class at the same time (as a regular student, for a grade...the only difference is that she's supposed to turn in her homework two days early).  Last year, the professor also had a TA that was taking the class at the same time.  Several person know she's the TA, and she openly talks about grading with us.  However, the professor has never openly said who the TA is and just talks about "the graders" in class without saying who the other person is he's talking about.  It's so awkward, and we can't go to the TA for advice or questions because it's a hard class that she's struggling with herself, and the professor apparently wants it to be a secret.  This makes me think he realizes it doesn't really make sense.  I'm friends with his previous TA, and she thinks the situation is completely inappropriate.  I don't know how much experience the current TA has in the subject matter, but I know she struggles just as much as the other students and I don't know why she would be taking it if she already knew the material.  Are TAs normally not allowed to take a course that they're currently TAing?  I can't find policies on this at my school and wish I had asked at the beginning of the semester instead of deciding to speak up now.

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This is definitely a bizarre situation. I don't know if I've ever seen a formal policy against it, but common sense alone dictates that the TA should not be a current student for a variety of reasons. 1. How can you judge the quality of someone's work when you are not as fluent in the subject matter? A TA is usually someone who did well in a course and then assists in the instruction and grading of material in subsequent semesters/years. It's like the in-between stage of student and professor. 2. How can the TA be impartial if they are grading their fellow classmates? This is another reason why TAs are usually more advanced students because the likelihood of there being much interaction and "history" with the students in the class is unlikely. 

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  • 5 months later...

This actually happened at my undergrad university this semester, with one of my labmates who was in her PhD studies. She was randomly placed into a course for TA-ship, and it happened to be a course she was planning on taking the upcoming semester. Apparently there weren't so many qualified students available to TA at the time (the mechanical department, which she and I were both in this semester, at our university has only a few dozen MS and PhD students.) 

She also had to submit her work early, but she was struggling to learn the material early, as well as help others in the class. I saw people come in a few times to try to talk to her about it, but she often struggled to give the answers as well. 

So apparently a practice like this isn't completely unheard of, but I do agree in that it is definitely absurd. I think it's mainly due to shortages for available TAs, and not cross-referencing class schedules before assigning TAs. However, the fact that she is a first year grad student and assigned to TA a grad level course raises some eyebrows. Administrative error, or just lack of awareness on the part of the grad advisors?

(Sidenote: I'm assigned to be a TA this upcoming school year for my 1st year of PhD studies, and I'm hoping it will be for undergraduate courses! This type of situation seems awful for both the TAs and the students alike...)

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  • 1 month later...

I have TA'd for a class I was concurrently taking, although it wasn't for credit and I was a few years above the rest of the class so there wasn't any interaction between us outside of my TA work.

It was really tough. As the TA you don't just have to understand the material as the term goes on, you need to understand it better than the best student in the class and about a week in advance of them because they'll be emailing you and asking for guidance on the assignments. Plus undergrads can make their classes their full-time job, while I had to juggle research and lesson planning alongside learning the content. My PI was the lecturer and gave me the green light to TA (even suggested it) because (a) I'd learn the content faster that way, and (b) as a graduate with a good few years on the rest of the class, I should be able to learn faster than them and to a deeper level.

I managed okay and got very good student reviews, but I would never do it again and I would never recommend it to another person. The stress is insane. 

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