Fossey

To TA or not to TA on your first year of PhD?

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Hi guys!

So, I am starting my first year as a PhD student this fall! So, so excited :lol:

Initially, I was planning to apply for TA positions because, well... I thought that was what most PhD students do their first few years! However, my professor has strongly encouraged me to NOT apply on my first year, since I will be doing my proposal, taking classes, etc... He recommended that I wait a year, as I would get more opportunities later. Is this true? I really don't want to miss out on TA experiences and so I thought I might ask here! Do PhD students usually not become TAs on their first year?

 :) Thanks!

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Hey Fossey, 

I'm also starting this upcoming fall, so I know how excited you must be! I will be working as a TA for 10 hours/week during my first semester and my school requires me to TA/RA for 6 semesters during the PhD program, so maybe you'll want to check that with your department.

Doesn't your decision on working as a TA or not this semester affects your financial situation? If it doesn't, I don't think you need to rush and apply on this first semester.

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Hi @fernandes

Yay! Thanks for the reply and good point! So my PhD funding does not require me to TA any semesters... It is really strange, because I know that most programs in the US ask PhD students to TA for at least a few semesters, like in your case. I am guessing that it is a different system in Canada?(my school is in Canada)

So, in a way, it doesn't affect my funding, but I would of course get paid even more if I worked as a TA. If that makes any sense.

Edited by Fossey

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8 minutes ago, PoliticalOrder said:

If your funding doesn't require that you TA, DO NOT TA, focus on doing well in your classes and especially your research. You can always TA later.

Yeah. TA'ing eats up far more time than one thinks it would. If I could avoid it for a bit, I would.

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Rule of thumb: if your prof has good funding for RA and wants you to be RA, be RA. Never ever do TA for the first semester if you are not required to do so. You need to deal with mostly adjusting your academic environment in your new school and catching up with the research in your PI's lab (if you have one), taking classes and preparing for qualifying exam at the end of your first academic year (many engineering programs require so).

Edited by ShogunT

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I think you should TA at some point in your PhD if you want an academic job. But I think putting it off until the second year is a good choice. I do enjoy TAing, and I think it helps you structure your time around things more than just your own work, but it's good to give yourself time to adjust in your first year if you were given the choice.

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If you can focus on research and coursework in your first year, that would be advisable. If you really want to, you could add TAing in your second year, but if your advisor has money to pay for you as an RA, why not do that? If you want to have an academic job then some TA experience would be useful, but its utility is pretty limited. You'd want to TA two, maybe three, semesters, ideally for different courses (intro, advanced, UG, grad) related to your field. Keep in mind that you'll compete against applicants who TAed throughout their studies and some who may have been instructor of record for some courses, so a bit of TA experience will help you write a more respectable teaching statement, but it won't make you shine. On the other hand, you will have more time to concentrate on research, which at the end of the day counts for more*, and can make you shine. Another factor to keep in mind is to try to TA for a professor who will write you letters of recommendation. Academic jobs want recommenders to write about applicants' teaching abilities, and sometimes you even have to designate at least one letter as (also) referring to teaching. If you don't think about this ahead of time and TA for some random professor in your department who can't also write about your research, you may have to trade a strong research-focused letter for a much weaker teaching-focused one, or have your advisors write about their second-hand opinion of your teaching ability based on your teaching evaluations and what they've heard from other profs. Better to have at least one advisor who can write about both your research and your teaching, if academic jobs might be a goal. 

* Unless you are aiming for mostly/solely teaching positions (e.g. at community colleges, etc). In that case, teaching experience will obviously matter more. 

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So I'm bumping this thread. My situation is a bit different it seems than others who have posted. My financial package Requires me to teach for the tuition waiver +stipend. I have to be in some kind of assistantship for 6 semesters. We are not required to teach our first year.

However, I was recently contacted by the school about an "opportunity" to teach. The course is w my (potential) advisor, and intersects closely with one of the courses I'll be taking. And teaching now will free up my ABD days. But it seems most people here advise against TAing during ones first semester.

Just wanted to throw this out there to see if anyone had any additional thoughts to share in response to my specific situation.

Edited by seung

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@seung Things to find out: What's the teaching load? (How many hours in class? How many students typically take the class? How many assignments to grade, and how long for a typical assignment?) Are there materials you can inherit from others, or are you expected to prepare your own? Is this a high-enrollment service course (typically undesirable, high workload) or more advanced undergrad/grad seminar (typically desirable, not that much work)? 

Then it's up to you: starting grad school comes with its own adjustment period, longer for some than others. If you're moving to a new city/state/country, you've been out of school for a while, you're behind on some of the material and expect to have to do extra work to catch up, English is not your first language, you have some disability or other time-consuming problem -- all of those will compete for your time and require some time for figure out. If, in addition, you've never taught before or you're TAing for a time-consuming class, that's an extra burden, both in terms of learning to fit it in with your other work, and in terms of the content and performance aspects of teaching. It's easier if you have experience and can be quite a lot if you're inexperienced. In addition there are aspects of just figuring out the school's norms with regard to expectations from teachers and students that are at least somewhat more straightforward once you've started attending an institution than before you've set foot in it (this matters more for intro level undergrad courses, less so for advanced courses). It's up to you to assess if you can handle it. The advice above is, I think, safe advice to give as a general rule: you want to ease into things one at a time, if you can. There's enough to figure out with coursework and research, without also having to worry about teaching. 

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In my program, a TAship is something you do as part of your PhD requirements. If there are needs in the department or other departments, an announcement is circulated and we can apply for those. As others suggested, do not TA if you don't have to. You will at some point, so take time to settle in, get acquainted with grad school, and then decide. 

 

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On 4/29/2016 at 9:34 PM, telkanuru said:

Even better rule of thumb: if your prof wants you to do X, do X.

It is weird how often members of this BB ask for advice from strangers after getting guidance from professors.

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17 hours ago, Sigaba said:

It is weird how often members of this BB ask for advice from strangers after getting guidance from professors.

You're not suggesting people go on the internet to get the great void to affirm whatever course of action they've decided on, are you? That's just crazy.

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