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How important are teaching assistantships?


mbrown0315

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This is a slightly involved question...

 

I know I love research and want to be a sociologist, but I am not sure if I want to be a professor because I do not know if I will enjoy teaching.

 

I have narrowed my choices down to UChicago and UCLA. Chicago requires that doctoral students complete the equivalent of five TAs while UCLA allows students who secure external funding and/or a research assistantship to substitute that for the TA requirement.

 

If I end up not enjoying teaching and committing myself to a pure research job, then Chicago's TA requirement (especially grading papers and stuff like that) is probably a waste of time, at least when you take the opportunity cost (less time for research) into account.

 

However, even if I enjoy teaching, might 5 TAships be excessive? Speaking in terms of getting a job, how much do universities care about your teaching experience? My impression is that they measure your productivity in terms of papers published more than anything else. So, if I do 2 TAs and publish 3 papers while at UCLA, is that significantly better than publishing 2 papers and completing 5 TAs while at Chicago (assuming similar journal quality)?

 

Basically, it just seems that there are diminishing returns to doctoral TAs after 2 or 3 teaching stints, whereas the marginal return of published papers is at least constant.

 

 

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Thanks a lot, anthropologygeek.

 

For anyone else interested in this question, I should have mentioned that the answer likely depends on whether you see yourself at a four-year research university or at a liberal arts college (where the emphasis is more on teaching). I have also heard that certain kinds of sociologists (ethnographers, for example) are expected to teach more, while hiring committees care less about teaching when hiring demographers and other quant-heavy academics.

 

If I end up as a professor, I see myself at a four-year research university doing mixed-methods work. Anyone else out there with advice to offer?

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I think you really have two questions here - one is about the value of TA-ships, and the other is about which school you should choose.  I don't think your school decision should concern the TA-ship question at all, since well, UCLA isn't known for having incredibly deep pockets (I know a few students at UCLA who weren't able to secure outside funding and had to TA far more than 5 quarters).  While you definitely don't want to get stuck TA-ing so much you don't get research done, there are some bright sides.. one, you could get to work with a prof you don't know well and establish a relationship through the TA-ship, and you could learn something from that TA-experience (yes, grad students might actually learn from an undergrad class sometime).  Publishing is of course much more important, but I wouldn't pick a school based on the way you posed you question.

 

The two programs are great programs - both have excellent placement and training.  The two schools have very different cultures - (not to mention climates).  Which program do you see yourself succeeding in more?  (And on the other side of the scale, if you hit a rough patch, which program are you more likely to finish?)  

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I think you might be misunderstanding the terms of your funding. Chicago requires five *quarters* of teaching, which in aggregate is less than two academic years. The norm at UCLA is to teach at least three years, or the equivalent of nine quarters. Unless you got a spectacular package at UCLA (three years of fellowship), in all likelihood you will teach more there than at Chicago.

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I think you might be misunderstanding the terms of your funding. Chicago requires five *quarters* of teaching, which in aggregate is less than two academic years. The norm at UCLA is to teach at least three years, or the equivalent of nine quarters. Unless you got a spectacular package at UCLA (three years of fellowship), in all likelihood you will teach more there than at Chicago.

 

I get that, and I guess it's a lot to assume that I'll be able to get so many research opportunities at UCLA, but I'm currently talking to professors who have expressed a lot of interest in some projects I have discussed with them. I'm still trying to get a reading on how likely it is that I will be able to find external funding and RAships.

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It's probably likely that you will get some external funding and RA-ships, but will it cover all 6, maybe 7 years of graduate school?  I believe that the average for both school's completion rates is close to 6-7 years, maybe closer to 7 years than 6.  Realistically, you will have to TA/teach at both programs for part of your time there (and in any program).  A good way to check is to look at the CV's of those on the job market from both programs.. I doubt you will find someone who doesn't have a TA-ship listed for either program, even if they won an NSF or something like that (as such fellowships only cover a part of your grad studies).  

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Just my two cents coming from the advice that I have gotten from my professors who are recent hires.  Teaching experience is a good thing to have if you want to stay in the academic field.  It is solid experience and training in an area that will be a big part of your future so TAing is good. 

 

I got a two year scholarship but will be pushing for TAing afterwards just because I would love to teach and see myself as an associate professor within a 10 year period.  Excellent publications, a great letter of recommendation and key experiences will be very important here.  Quality will always beat quantity, especially in this case, so I would say that there is no reason to push for a upper limit yet.

 

also - isnt NSF only possible to get during the first year of your studies? so it would cover very little

Edited by ohgoodness
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You can apply to the NSF predoctoral fellowship the year before you start a program, the first and second year in your program - and you just need to be awarded it once and it covers 3 full years of funding somewhere in the range of $30K+ per year I believe.  It also becomes a strong signal to everyone that the "discipline already thinks highly of you."  (I say that in air quotes since well, how much your trajectory is determined by your work your 1st year in grad school seems a bit dubious, but I'm just repeating what advisors have told me -- but its also why programs that fully fund their students also encourage their students to apply still).  You must be a US citizen, and you must not have had any school beyond a BA (ie, no MA, no JD - just one year disqualifies you).  There is more info on the "Bank" section of Grad Cafe, where a bunch of people always freak out about when they release the winners (usually some time early April).

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30k to you, 10k to the school, per year.  Programs which have formerly rejected will often times admit if you call them up in April and tell them you got the NSF.  Everyone should apply.  Experience is good, and you get solid feedback from reviewers.

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