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Frustrating, unfair TA work


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I feel really frustrated about the TA assignment of my PhD program and was wondering if anyone could offer me some advice.

 

I'm in a PhD program in linguistics. When I received the offer letter a few years ago, I was happy to know that 5 years of fundings are guaranteed and I only need to TA for the three years in between. It turned out that, as an international student who spoke another language, I was assigned language teaching for the 2 and 3 year and may be the same for the 4th. It SUCKS. First, it's super time-consuming. Each week you need to teach SIX (hours of) classes, have 2h of office hour, 1h of meeting, (not required but highly recommended) 2h of lecture class sit-in, and numerous hours for grading and class preparation. It costs me about 20h per week, which is on the edge of maximum 20h workload specified in the contract. Yes you only need to speak your native language, but it does not mean it's an easy work to prepare for/teach the class. Second, although it's teaching language, it's not relevant to linguistics at all. It has no benefit to my current research, and I very doubt that it can benefit my resume and my future job seeking. Third, only international students or students who spoke another language are assigned language job. We may have a chance to TA one semester of linguistics class in the fourth year, but many other students are assigned linguistics/relevant-field TA jobs all the three years through. I understand the department lacks TA jobs to accommodate all the students, but it's simply unfair for those of us who got punished for our virtue (knowing another language(s)). 

 

I hope I can negotiate with the department and the graduate school. I talked to our chair and although she feels sorry for us and doesn't like the situation either, there is little the department can do. I believe I come to the graduate program to do research and the department and the graduate school should know that, but somehow they let it happen. What I can do to save myself from 20h/week of irrelevant teaching work? Or, is it just normal for graduate students to have such heavy TA work, and there is nothing to complain about? Or, even if most graduate students don't have this problem now, you may face it one day when you find a job, and this is just a rehearsal? Or, I should be more grateful since I'm at least guaranteed tuition coverage and payment? Any advise/comment is welcome. Thanks!

 

 

(It's a new account so the program will not be revealed. Although the whole TA thing sucks, I still feel very grateful to my program and I love people here. But sometimes I will still be thinking if I knew this beforehand, I might think twice before I accepted the offer. Maybe it's a lesson for the new applicants? Know as much as you can about all the aspects about the program before you decided.)

Edited by tajob
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Oh man. Where is your advisor in all this? Do they know about your philosophy on grad school/academia? You need to talk to them (or some other senior person you trust) about your feelings, because you

I think the other, more important point, is that aside from how much or how little you should develop other areas of expertise, classes are rarely the way to do it.  I'm an organic chemist by tra

You're not going to like what I have to say. You are not being over-worked, although, yes, you are at the high end of what they can ask of you. You may not enjoy it, but no one promised you that you w

You're not going to like what I have to say. You are not being over-worked, although, yes, you are at the high end of what they can ask of you. You may not enjoy it, but no one promised you that you would. Your department is trying to do everything it can to guarantee everyone funding, and since I assume there aren't enough courses in linguistics to go around, they have to have some students doing language teaching. Obviously, language teaching has to be done by those who can do it, so that means international students do more of that and English speakers do the other courses. If they gave you all linguistics courses, someone else would be stuck without funding altogether. It's the department's responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen, even if it sucks for you. It'd suck even more for someone else if they didn't get a stipend and couldn't afford to pay rent anymore.

I assume that this is something that you could have easily found out about ahead of time if you had talked to current students about their TA experiences before accepting your offer. So yes, this is one place where you could have been more proactive to maybe save yourself this trouble, or at least be aware of it going in. Knowing as much as possible about a situation before getting yourself into it is always good advice. But now that you're in it, I think you need to accept it and do your best to work with what you've got, which, at the end of the day, isn't all that bad in my opinion.

Course prep is time-consuming, so I would concentrate on improving your life on that front. I'm sure this is not the first time Language X is being taught at your school, aren't there materials around to be inherited from others? Maybe they can put you in touch with previous instructors or you could initiate a materials-sharing setup. Another, more realistic, request you could make of your chair is to be assigned the same courses next year as this, to massively save on course prep. FWIW, though, course prep will now and forever be a major time suck, if you want to be in academia. Best two strategies for dealing with that are what I suggested above: inherit materials from others and reduce new course preps as much as possible. This will be a useful life skill.

Finally, for the good news: assuming you want to go on the academic job market, no one will care about the courses you TAed. Having 1-2 courses in linguistics is enough, combined with your other teaching experience. I would even guess that you could have no linguistics classes and do ok. If you apply for jobs in language departments, you'll probably even have an advantage. You'll need to write a teaching statement, but that's not about the content of the courses you TAed as much as about your teaching philosophy. Your experience will allow you to have informed opinions and specific examples about designing classes, prepping materials, your approach to learning, and all the other usual stuff that goes in a statement. A school will hire you because you are an expert in X, you are whatever else they are looking for, and because they think you'll be a decent teacher, as reflected by evaluations, letters, statement, job talk, and teaching demo (if you give one). They will assume you can prep courses you've never taught before, because TAing for a course is not the same as teaching it, and either way you most likely will be prepping courses you've never taught before. All you'll need to have are informed opinions about how you'd teach relevant courses in your field, you don't have to have actually taught/TAed them in the past. 

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32 minutes ago, tajob said:

Know as much as you can about all the aspects about the program before you decided.)

This is certainly good advice.

That said, 20h/week is... about right? That doesn't sound exploitative at all. I mean, what did you expect? That you'd sit in a couple undergraduate classes and your program will throw money at you? It's certainly not as advantageous as being able to TA/RA in an area directly relevant to your interests, but it is the obvious reality for fields where there are no labs (and even in fields with labs, people spend years working on things they're not interested in because their supervisor told them to). Relatively few people get to teach classes directly relevant to their research in their entire careers, much less their time in graduate school. Graduate TAs are usually assigned to teach low-level intro classes like composition or foreign language ab initio or the dreaded calc 1. Nobody likes it, which is why people at the bottom of the food chain get to do it. That's not to say you shouldn't lobby to be assigned to a linguistics class or to be an instructor of record for an elective of your own design, but what's happening to you is normal.

Why do you believe that teaching experience won't help you in your career? Obviously, I don't know your career aspirations, but unless you're a computational linguist with a strong comp sci bent, if you choose to stay in academia, you will need to teach. There is even a high possibility that you will need to teach language classes, because outside of R1s, linguists get hired into language departments, which teach old-school philology.

Edited by ExponentialDecay
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Thanks! It's always good to "normalize" your situation and know you are not the worst. Of course I understand the department does not mistreat me deliberately, and they need to look at the big picture to accommodate all the students.

But still, at least in our program, 20h of work is not the norm, and only language teachers and maybe writing seminar instructors got to work this long, and only very few of the students, almost all internationals, got to teach these classes for all the three years. More TA work means less time to do research, means a particular group of the students always being less productive than the others, and this is pre-decided even before we come to the program. To make sure everyone is funded does not make this less unfair for us individuals (but of course there is no real fairness in real life), we students know it, the department knows it, those being caught in the situation complain about it privately, most keep silent when prospective students are coming to visit. Isn't this the department's responsibility to make sure that at least the same thing will not always happen to the same particular group of students?

Anyway, as it seems normal, I guess there is little I can do about it. Thanks for the advice about sharing materials with the pre-instructors. I did use such help. The preparation could have been much longer if I haven't. As for asking the department to assign me the same work every year, this does not work for our particular program, but can be a good advice for other people who share the problem. I guess I will keep making a few complaints to the department. Maybe things won't change for me, but at least make myself and people in the same situation heard.

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8 hours ago, tajob said:

But still, at least in our program, 20h of work is not the norm, and only language teachers and maybe writing seminar instructors got to work this long, and only very few of the students, almost all internationals, got to teach these classes for all the three years. More TA work means less time to do research, means a particular group of the students always being less productive than the others, and this is pre-decided even before we come to the program. To make sure everyone is funded does not make this less unfair for us individuals (but of course there is no real fairness in real life), we students know it, the department knows it, those being caught in the situation complain about it privately, most keep silent when prospective students are coming to visit. Isn't this the department's responsibility to make sure that at least the same thing will not always happen to the same particular group of students?

That is indeed unfair, but it's hard to see how you solve it if the program just doesn't have the money. But why aren't you telling prospective students about this problem? I'm perplexed. Wouldn't you have wanted to know? 

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11 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

That is indeed unfair, but it's hard to see how you solve it if the program just doesn't have the money. But why aren't you telling prospective students about this problem? I'm perplexed. Wouldn't you have wanted to know? 

Yes it's highly possible that I can't talk my way out of it, although it happened to one of our senior students before who made the complaints and was changed to intro to linguistics, meaning sometimes the department is able to make the arrangement. 

I guess usually people avoid talking bad things about the department when perspective students come. But I guess if they ask, we won't lie. The problem is most perspective students don't know this can be a potential problem later and don't ask. The program of course won't bring it up. Although it's a genuine concern among us students and the department, in the welcome presentation they still just make a brief statement like "oh of course you can also got a language TA, but it's not common (may be for most students yes, but not for some particular others)".

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I mean, I get the frustration, but this really isn't that bad of a position to be in.

I've had to help a lot of grad students from different departments negotiate TA overloads, and some of those have been up to 40+ hours. That's not to say that just because other people are worse off, you shouldn't try to improve your situation, but I really think you're over-stating the issue. 

Every department has heavy and light loads for TA assignments. Everyone that has a TA assignment has a skill set that they are able to TA- maybe from undergraduate experience, maybe from a double major. 

You have a particular skill set, and accordingly, are TAing classes that go with that skill set. You're perfectly within range of your contract, but you don't feel it's fair because other people are teaching less than they "should" be. 

Either way, on a per hour basis, my guess is your stipend+tuition remission is a very, very nice hourly wage for 20 hours of work, and 20 hours is a pretty decent load to have. 

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40 minutes ago, Eigen said:

I mean, I get the frustration, but this really isn't that bad of a position to be in.

I've had to help a lot of grad students from different departments negotiate TA overloads, and some of those have been up to 40+ hours. That's not to say that just because other people are worse off, you shouldn't try to improve your situation, but I really think you're over-stating the issue. 

Every department has heavy and light loads for TA assignments. Everyone that has a TA assignment has a skill set that they are able to TA- maybe from undergraduate experience, maybe from a double major. 

You have a particular skill set, and accordingly, are TAing classes that go with that skill set. You're perfectly within range of your contract, but you don't feel it's fair because other people are teaching less than they "should" be. 

Either way, on a per hour basis, my guess is your stipend+tuition remission is a very, very nice hourly wage for 20 hours of work, and 20 hours is a pretty decent load to have. 

Thanks! Again it's good to know that the workload is normal among graduate students. I'm not saying I don't ever want to teach language. I'm ok with teaching it 1 semester a year, or 4 for the whole 6 semesters, but 3 consecutive years are too much. And 20h teaching in the 2nd semesters of the 2nd and the 3rd year when we are required to take at least 4 classes and produce a publishable paper at the same time is not a easy job. Other people who teach linguistics classes for 3 years also have the skill sets that can put them in writing seminars, but some of them just never get the heavier jobs. As I said, the department recognizes it as a problem, but they still assign some of us to years of language teaching because they are easier TA jobs to find for the students (and yes other TA jobs are really hard to find and it's not that the department is not fighting for it for us). I guess what I can do now is comforting myself with what I heard from the forum that I'm not in the worst situation. I still think it's not fair for some students but can only hope this can happen less for future students...

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I am a TA now, and I feel really sorry to know you have to teach that much. On a positive note, even not much, you are still in control of your situation, i.e. you can work to earn the funding that supports your own study. A friend of mine was an RA for a PI whose funding got terminated. Unfortunately, my friend could not find a TA job within her department and had to leave the PhD program with a Master degree.

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3 minutes ago, ShogunT said:

I am a TA now, and I feel really sorry to know you have to teach that much. On a positive note, even not much, you are still in control of your situation, i.e. you can work to earn the funding that supports your own study. A friend of mine was an RA for a PI whose funding got terminated. Unfortunately, my friend could not find a TA job within her department and had to leave the PhD program with a Master degree.

Yes I've heard a lot of these horror stories...:unsure: I also know that many of other programs can't guarantee 5 years of funding and their students have to find TA jobs by themselves in their dissertation year. One can say that it's already unfair that my program supports students for 5 years while others can't, or students in other programs need to work even longer. But on the other hand, I worked hard to come to the current program with the knowledge that I will be guaranteed for full fundings and be able to devote more time to my research, but the reality is that I'm among the minority who are given things slightly different from our expectations, and these unfairness is not due to our incapability but our capability. I guess frustration is natural, but I'm not planning to spend too much time on complaining things or forcing the department do anything. I will take what I have now (but still it's good to make yourself heard, I guess).

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I agree with most of what everyone else said. It's within the contracted policies and no one is doing anything wrong per se.

But it sounds like you are saying there is sort of a two-tier TA system in your department. I'm not in a linguistic department so I don't know all of the inner workings but what you describe does seem unfair. To me, it sounds like you are saying there are more desirable TA options because they are more relevant to the research and they don't take up the full 20 contract hours. And there are less desirable ones that aren't relevant to research and they also take up more contract hours.

At the basic level, yeah, some TA positions are going to be more work than others and sometimes you get unlucky. But, you are saying that the department is systematically assigning the less desirable TA positions to one group of students (those with a foreign language) and assigning more desirable TA positions to those without. To me, it doesn't sound like this is done with malice, because they are probably trying to put the skilled workers in the positions that need those skills. However, they might not realize that they are acting unfairly, especially since this means everyone gets paid the same for TAing but one group of student systematically has to work more for the same pay. The first thing I would do is to find out if other students feel the same way and approach the department.

I can think of lots of different ways to resolve this fairly. One way would be to make sure they aren't assigning TAships unfairly. It's okay for the department to assign TA work to someone who is not 100% skilled in that course, because what if they have no students with language X in one year? Someone will have to teach it. (Similarly, theory physics students sometimes have to TA in lab courses where they have very little experience). Or, they can put more hours into the more intensive courses. Maybe if you are TAing a language course, you only TA twice per year while those TAing the lower workload courses will TA 3 courses per year. Ultimately, even with a fixed budget, it sounds like the department could do some work to reallocate these hours so that everyone still gets paid the same amount while everyone also works the same amount.

But whether or not it's worth your time to complain is up to you and your colleagues. I feel like you have a case here. It's not fair to have a "two-tier" TA system and systematically assign less desirable positions to a group of students. 

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6 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

But it sounds like you are saying there is sort of a two-tier TA system in your department. I'm not in a linguistic department so I don't know all of the inner workings but what you describe does seem unfair. To me, it sounds like you are saying there are more desirable TA options because they are more relevant to the research and they don't take up the full 20 contract hours. And there are less desirable ones that aren't relevant to research and they also take up more contract hours.

I highly doubt that the more relevant positions actually help with anyone's research. Mainly they're probably less work, but that would also probably depend on the particular language course, whether you can inherit materials, etc. vs. how much time it'd take you to prep/TA/grade for the linguistics course, and people can take more or less time. I see that within my own TAs this semester, some of them clearly take much longer than others to complete the same tasks. This is probably at least to some extent a perception problem, with the language teaching being viewed as less prestigious.

I don't think getting non-native speakers to teach a language course is even possible. They just don't have the skills. And complaining if there is no solution in sight... well, again, even if you have a case, I'm not sure how that will help. Maybe there is a way to ask for some *small* increase in pay for those who do these less desirable courses. Or priority for summer funding, if that is at all possible. I don't know how else to solve this if the department simply doesn't have other TA positions, and it sounds like they're already aware of the problem and are fighting to get more of the better positions. 

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2 hours ago, TakeruK said:

I agree with most of what everyone else said. It's within the contracted policies and no one is doing anything wrong per se.

But it sounds like you are saying there is sort of a two-tier TA system in your department. I'm not in a linguistic department so I don't know all of the inner workings but what you describe does seem unfair. To me, it sounds like you are saying there are more desirable TA options because they are more relevant to the research and they don't take up the full 20 contract hours. And there are less desirable ones that aren't relevant to research and they also take up more contract hours.

At the basic level, yeah, some TA positions are going to be more work than others and sometimes you get unlucky. But, you are saying that the department is systematically assigning the less desirable TA positions to one group of students (those with a foreign language) and assigning more desirable TA positions to those without. To me, it doesn't sound like this is done with malice, because they are probably trying to put the skilled workers in the positions that need those skills. However, they might not realize that they are acting unfairly, especially since this means everyone gets paid the same for TAing but one group of student systematically has to work more for the same pay. The first thing I would do is to find out if other students feel the same way and approach the department.

I can think of lots of different ways to resolve this fairly. One way would be to make sure they aren't assigning TAships unfairly. It's okay for the department to assign TA work to someone who is not 100% skilled in that course, because what if they have no students with language X in one year? Someone will have to teach it. (Similarly, theory physics students sometimes have to TA in lab courses where they have very little experience). Or, they can put more hours into the more intensive courses. Maybe if you are TAing a language course, you only TA twice per year while those TAing the lower workload courses will TA 3 courses per year. Ultimately, even with a fixed budget, it sounds like the department could do some work to reallocate these hours so that everyone still gets paid the same amount while everyone also works the same amount.

But whether or not it's worth your time to complain is up to you and your colleagues. I feel like you have a case here. It's not fair to have a "two-tier" TA system and systematically assign less desirable positions to a group of students. 

Thanks for the understanding. We got a small group of us that face the same problem. We discuss it among ourselves, make complaints to the chair or even to the graduate school, but this is not done as a organized group. Maybe the students should have something like this in the future. The department does know the situation, but with very limited resources, they may have no alternatives. Unfortunately, the language jobs are not within our department. We are assigned to other language departments and they are the ones who decide our jobs and workload. Our department has no influence over their decisions. That's probably one of reasons why we have to work more hours (even our chair said they are kind of exploitive). So it's impossible to balance the workload among students by the way you proposed. What they can try to achieve is to assign fewer language jobs to a particular student or a particular group of students, and let other students do some writing seminar classes. Like I said, teaching 1 semester of language per year or at most 4 for the whole 6 semester is acceptable. (But even this is not without restrictions.

 

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27 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

I highly doubt that the more relevant positions actually help with anyone's research. Mainly they're probably less work, but that would also probably depend on the particular language course, whether you can inherit materials, etc. vs. how much time it'd take you to prep/TA/grade for the linguistics course, and people can take more or less time. I see that within my own TAs this semester, some of them clearly take much longer than others to complete the same tasks.

You're right. The more relevant positions do not help with one's research directly. But my advisor always encourages his students to TA for intro class for the subfield I'm in and every year one of his students did get this job. It suggests at least it benefits somehow to our research, our teaching experience or our understanding of the field. 

Indeed the workload varies depending on the language one teaches. Again, the professors are aware that in general language instructors spend more time than linguistics instructors. A few professors asked me about it and complained with me. My advisor even explicitly told me to be sloppy about the classes, spending as little time as I can, although it's not easy when you're teaching 6 classes. And I imagine I will be more willing to spend time if I'm TAing linguistics because I do love it and want the student to love it too.

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59 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

I highly doubt that the more relevant positions actually help with anyone's research. Mainly they're probably less work, but that would also probably depend on the particular language course, whether you can inherit materials, etc. vs. how much time it'd take you to prep/TA/grade for the linguistics course, and people can take more or less time. I see that within my own TAs this semester, some of them clearly take much longer than others to complete the same tasks. This is probably at least to some extent a perception problem, with the language teaching being viewed as less prestigious.

I don't think getting non-native speakers to teach a language course is even possible. They just don't have the skills. And complaining if there is no solution in sight... well, again, even if you have a case, I'm not sure how that will help. Maybe there is a way to ask for some *small* increase in pay for those who do these less desirable courses. Or priority for summer funding, if that is at all possible. I don't know how else to solve this if the department simply doesn't have other TA positions, and it sounds like they're already aware of the problem and are fighting to get more of the better positions. 

We actually have non-natives to teach a language. They don't usually get three years of language teaching in a roll, but the semester(s) they do teach the language, it can get very stressful. The department indeed is trying their best, but complaining can (maybe) improve this situation in later years and for future students. At least they may take more consideration when recruiting students, and don't just assign students to a language department automatically because they are easier to get. 

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So, again, I highly doubt that getting to teach intro to X helps anyone's research. And I think it's entirely sensible for the department to assign intro to X to a student who studies X, I don't think that teaches us much. It's also natural for a professor to tell his/her X students to try to TA X, but you're extrapolating from that all kinds of extra facts not in evidence. As I said, it's not like it doesn't help at all, but it's really not that big of a deal. It will not stop you from getting hired in X after you graduate. Your experience TAing X or teaching a language course are both only somewhat relevant for being a professor of X, it'll mostly help you talk sensibly about teaching. Either way, you'll have to spend some time thinking about how you'd teach intro to X, advanced X for undergraduates/graduate students, what material is really important, if you'd use a textbook and if so which one, etc. TAing for intro to X might help you get started thinking about that, but you just need to get over this idea that you're being all kinds of mistreated by your department or someone else is getting is a big advantage from TAing intro to X, and trust that you can figure it out. If you can't, you won't be hired by anyone anyway, because as I said, you will have to do your own course prep for sure, and if you can only do prep for courses you've TAed for in the past, then you won't be very attractive at all. 

I am trying to look at this from your department's perspective. Assigning non-native speakers to language courses is both less ideal for the students and I am sure even more work for the TA than it would be for you. You already say that they are trying their best and it sounds like they are aware of the problem. You have to be smart about complaining, who you complain to, how often you do it. You haven't said anything about that and you might be doing it right. But given your bitterness here, I'd worry that you are (i) bringing it up too often, (ii) bringing it up in inappropriate situations, (iii) over interpreting it and thus making your case weaker than it is. I'd concentrate on getting materials, reducing course prep, and trying to get a promise to TA a linguistics course at least once, maybe twice. If you don't have an official role as student rep or similar, it's doubtful that you can act in the name of students who haven't even been admitted yet. And if you are, you need to get other students organized as well, not just complain on your own. 

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43 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

So, again, I highly doubt that getting to teach intro to X helps anyone's research. And I think it's entirely sensible for the department to assign intro to X to a student who studies X, I don't think that teaches us much. It's also natural for a professor to tell his/her X students to try to TA X, but you're extrapolating from that all kinds of extra facts not in evidence. As I said, it's not like it doesn't help at all, but it's really not that big of a deal. It will not stop you from getting hired in X after you graduate. Your experience TAing X or teaching a language course are both only somewhat relevant for being a professor of X, it'll mostly help you talk sensibly about teaching. Either way, you'll have to spend some time thinking about how you'd teach intro to X, advanced X for undergraduates/graduate students, what material is really important, if you'd use a textbook and if so which one, etc. TAing for intro to X might help you get started thinking about that, but you just need to get over this idea that you're being all kinds of mistreated by your department or someone else is getting is a big advantage from TAing intro to X, and trust that you can figure it out. If you can't, you won't be hired by anyone anyway, because as I said, you will have to do your own course prep for sure, and if you can only do prep for courses you've TAed for in the past, then you won't be very attractive at all. 

I am trying to look at this from your department's perspective. Assigning non-native speakers to language courses is both less ideal for the students and I am sure even more work for the TA than it would be for you. You have to be smart about complaining, who you complain to, how often you do it. You haven't said anything about that and you might be doing it right. But given your bitterness here, I'd worry that you are (i) bringing it up too often, (ii) bringing it up in inappropriate situations, (iii) over interpreting it and thus making your case weaker than it is. I'd concentrate on getting materials, reducing course prep, and trying to get a promise to TA a linguistics course at least once, maybe twice. 

Trying to get a promise to TA a linguistics course (or whatever courses that cost less time) at least once is what I'm trying to achieve right now by "complaining". Since you mentioned that I might risk bringing it up too often or in inappropriate situations, I might use the wrong word of "complaining". I only express my concern to our chair that it might take over too much of my time for research in my defense semester and she totally agreed with that. We're working together to negotiate with the language department to see if I can be assigned a class that I've taught before. I didn't mention anything about the fairness or throw doubt about the department decision.

I get it that the content of TA may not matter to the research or job seeking. But my focus is not on this; it's on that it takes me (us) more time than the norm in our department and it may be going on for all the three years if I do nothing and just bear with it. It's solvable, maybe not by giving me another position this semester, but by giving me more priority on a ling class or any class that costs less time when assigning TA next year.

I totally understand the difficulty of the department. Last time I talked with my chair, she gave me basically the same thing you told me today. It's nice to hear it from another source again though. I explicitly said I understand I was not mistreated. It does not conflict with the idea that it's unfair and "complaining" may make the things better in the future for me and others in the same situation (including those who teach a non-native language)

 

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4 hours ago, tajob said:

Thanks! Again it's good to know that the workload is normal among graduate students. I'm not saying I don't ever want to teach language. I'm ok with teaching it 1 semester a year, or 4 for the whole 6 semesters, but 3 consecutive years are too much. And 20h teaching in the 2nd semesters of the 2nd and the 3rd year when we are required to take at least 4 classes and produce a publishable paper at the same time is not a easy job. 

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but... If this is the case, then you may not be cut out for an academic job. You're talking about teaching one course a semester. Faculty typically teach several courses a semester (ranging from 2-5 depending on the institution), so they're spending far more than 6 hours a week in the classroom. In addition, they have research and service requirements. At R1s, this means publishing at least a few articles a year. So, if producing a publishable paper at the same time as doing 20 hours of teaching a semester is too much for you, you may want to rethink your intended career path. 

As others have said, your prep time should really be decreasing if you're teaching the same language class each semester. Once you've done something 3+ times, it really is easier to prep for and teach it. You can also shift your assessment strategies to use more peer grading or low stakes grading so you can spend less time marking assignments. 

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28 minutes ago, rising_star said:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but... If this is the case, then you may not be cut out for an academic job. You're talking about teaching one course a semester. Faculty typically teach several courses a semester (ranging from 2-5 depending on the institution), so they're spending far more than 6 hours a week in the classroom. In addition, they have research and service requirements. At R1s, this means publishing at least a few articles a year. So, if producing a publishable paper at the same time as doing 20 hours of teaching a semester is too much for you, you may want to rethink your intended career path. 

As others have said, your prep time should really be decreasing if you're teaching the same language class each semester. Once you've done something 3+ times, it really is easier to prep for and teach it. You can also shift your assessment strategies to use more peer grading or low stakes grading so you can spend less time marking assignments. 

I'm still in the process of learning how to do research and yes it's slow for now. It's a relatively new area for me and I'm shifting to more comp-wise research so a lot of programing to learn too. I'm also taking four to five classes a semester and auditing more. I do all this to try to explore different topics/subfields using different methods in my graduate study so that I will be able to do various research efficiently when I graduate (I know there is a debate on whether you should focus on one thing and do a series of studies on it or do different things. Our department requires us to work on distinct subfields for our first two papers, so that's what I'm trying to accomplish here. But ultimately I think I can subsume my research under one big topic).  I didn't see why now it's hard for me necessarily mean I'm not suitable for academia. 

You are right the workload should decrease as I teach the classes more times, although for now I was assigned different classes every semester. I guess at the end of my fourth year, both the research and teaching will become smoother for me. This is a panic post made at this particular time. Things can get better, with improvement of myself and maybe occasional assignment of some less heavy jobs. 

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Don't over-react, no one said you are necessarily not cut out for academia. But it's entirely correct that if you can't figure out how to make your TA workload fit with your research, you may not want to have a career in academia, because it won't get better, it'll get worse. And that is not to say it doesn't take time to figure it out or that you can't do it, but complaining about it is not the way to go. 

As for classes, frankly it sounds like you are doing way too much, and that is probably the cause for this crisis. No one should be doing 4-5 classes plus TAing plus auditing extra classes. I get wanting to learn more and wanting to take advantage of opportunities, but you also need to learn what workload works for you and you have to be able to prioritize and say no on occasion. You can't take every interesting class, you can't attend every interesting talk. You should be able to teach yourself necessary skills as you go along, without attending classes. I don't know where your advisor is in all of this, but if this is a normal program in North America, you shouldn't be doing more than three courses while TAing, two is best, four at the very most. More than that, and you're risking running yourself into the ground. Are you a first-year or second-year? This sounds like a mistake a lot of young students make, of trying to do too much. I know lots of first-years who try to sit in (and occasionally take) 1-2 seminars at the same time as their first-year classes. That almost always ends in exhaustion (and them dropping the seminars at some point). It's just not a good idea to push yourself that much, especially when you are TAing new classes that you're not prepped for. This is a marathon, not a sprint. 

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Hey tajob, are you taking 4-5 grad courses a semester? That would be impossible for many grad students! That could be the issue. I usually take 2 courses and teach a similar load to yourself teaching language - 20 hours per week in the classroom/grading/writing exams/preparing lesson plans. I had to pass a test in a 3rd language and I was auditing that language course but stopped going every day - too much to do! Take it easy! peace brother/sister!

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5 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

Don't over-react, no one said you are necessarily not cut out for academia. But it's entirely correct that if you can't figure out to make your TA workload fit with your research, you may not want to have a career in academia, because it won't get better, it'll get worse. And that is not to say it doesn't take time to figure it out or that you can't do it, but complaining about it is not the way to go. 

As for classes, frankly it sounds like you are doing way too much, and that is probably the cause for this crisis. No one should be doing 4-5 classes plus TAing plus auditing extra classes. I get wanting to learn more and wanting to take advantage of opportunities, but you also need to learn what workload works for you and you have to be able to prioritize and say no on occasion. You can't take every interesting class, you can't attend every interesting talk. I don't know where you advisor is in all of this, but if this is a normal program in North America, you shouldn't be doing more than three courses while TAing, four at the very most. More than that, and you're risking running yourself into the ground. Are you a first-year or second-year? This sounds like a mistake a lot of young students make, of trying to do too much. I know lots of first-years you try to sit in (and occasionally take) 1-2 seminars at the same time as their first-year classes. That almost always ends in exhaustion. It's just not a good idea to push yourself that much, especially when you are TAing new classes that you're not prepped for.

Yes this might be the issue.. I feel bitter about the heavier TA jobs because I think it eats my time for classes and research. We are required to take at least 3 courses while teaching, and the graduate school has this policy that you can't take classes after the third year (we're required to graduate within 5 years, which is good but still stressing). The first year is for core courses so not many other courses can get in (but I did take 3-4 extra courses/seminars together with the 6 core courses exactly as you said..). We need to take four advanced level ling classes so the middle two years just feel too short to learn all the things I want and fully prepare myself for academia. To me is like this: taking class can help with my research; doing research can help me get a job; but doing TA is only for money and not helpful for my job seeking, but I have to work more than others to get the same money (and the language department is not considerate about your time on research at all. They just want you to work more). So it adds up to this break out. I feel less confident if I don't have as many as skill sets and research work as others when I will be applying for the job. You're right I'm pushing myself too much, but I don't know if there is a "easier" way to be more competitive and survive the academia...

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21 minutes ago, xolo said:

Hey tajob, are you taking 4-5 grad courses a semester? That would be impossible for many grad students! That could be the issue. I usually take 2 courses and teach a similar load to yourself teaching language - 20 hours per week in the classroom/grading/writing exams/preparing lesson plans. I had to pass a test in a 3rd language and I was auditing that language course but stopped going every day - too much to do! Take it easy! peace brother!

It's not all grad courses though. usually 2(-3) grad course plus 2(-3) math/CS/STAT classes. We need to finish the course work within 3 years (in fact 2 years) so I can only stuff more classes within each semester to make it work.

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30 minutes ago, tajob said:

Yes this might be the issue.. I feel bitter about the heavier TA jobs because I think it eats my time for classes and research. We are required to take at least 3 courses while teaching, and the graduate school has this policy that you can't take classes after the third year (we're required to graduate within 5 years, which is good but still stressing). The first year is for core courses so not many other courses can get in (but I did take 3-4 extra courses/seminars together with the 6 core courses exactly as you said..). We need to take four advanced level ling classes so the middle two years just feel too short to learn all the things I want and fully prepare myself for academia. To me is like this: taking class can help with my research; doing research can help me get a job; but doing TA is only for money and not helpful for my job seeking, but I have to work more than others to get the same money (and the language department is not considerate about your time on research at all. They just want you to work more). So it adds up to this break out. I feel less confident if I don't have as many as skill sets and research work as others when I will be applying for the job. You're right I'm pushing myself too much, but I don't know if there is a "easier" way to be more competitive and survive the academia...

Yeah, see, your problem is you want to LEARN ALL THE THINGS. You can't. You're doing WAY too much, but not in the right places. By your fourth year you should be spending your time on dissertation research, and research more generally, not taking courses, so your department's policy sounds correct. A PhD isn't about learning a little bit of lots of things, it's about becoming an expert in one very particular thing. You should be transitioning from coursework to research already in your second year and certainly in your third year. You should find an area of specialty and work within it, and you should be able to pick up the necessary skills for your work without classes, because once you're done with next year (if I am reading this correctly, you're just finishing your second year now), you will never again be able to take classes to teach yourself new skills, but there will most definitely be new things you'll need to learn. Coursework requirements are something to get out of the way, not pile on more than you need to. It actually sounds like you're basically done with what you need to do and now you're taking on more and more extra work because of your insecurities.

No one can guarantee you a job, but it would help if you knew what search committees actually look for when they hire. When you apply for jobs, no one is going to care what courses you took; no one has ever asked me for a transcript. What they'll care about is your research. Your actual output -- papers, presentations, etc. You work with others who have expertise you lack, and you pick it up as you go for things you really need to know. They'll also care about what you can teach, but that *does not mean* you have to take a class in everything you'll teach. You need to be able to teach yourself stuff you'll teach your students. If you want to be hired as a computational linguist, start doing research in that field, and build an expertise in some subarea. You might not know every programming language or relevant skill out there, but no one does. What matters is that you can convince someone that you're an expert in some part of it and can figure out what you don't know and how to fill in the gaps (work with others, teach yourself). Stop stressing over coursework, that's not where you should be spending your time anyway. 

* And the fact that the language department doesn't care about your research and wants you to do your job? seriously, that's something to complain about? this is what you're paid for.

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20 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

Yeah, see, your problem is you want to LEARN ALL THE THINGS. You can't. You're doing WAY too much, but not in the right places. By your fourth year you should be spending your time on dissertation research, and research more generally, not taking courses, so your department's policy sounds correct. A PhD isn't about learning a little bit of lots of things, it's about becoming an expert in one very particular thing. You should be transitioning from coursework to research already in your second year and certainly in your third year. You should find an area of specialty and work within it, and you should be able to pick up the necessary skills for your work without classes, because once you're done with next year (if I am reading this correctly, you're just finishing your second year now), you will never again be able to take classes to teach yourself new skills, but there will most definitely be new things you'll need to learn. Coursework requirements are something to get out of the way, not pile on more than you need to. It actually sounds like you're basically done with what you need to do and now you're taking on more and more extra work because of your insecurities.

No one can guarantee you a job, but it would help if you knew what search committees actually look for when they hire. When you apply for jobs, no one is going to care what courses you took; no one has ever asked me for a transcript. What they'll care about is your research. Your actual output -- papers, presentations, etc. You work with others who have expertise you lack, and you pick it up as you go for things you really need to know. They'll also care about what you can teach, but that *does not mean* you have to take a class in everything you'll teach. You need to be able to teach yourself stuff you'll teach your students. If you want to be hired as a computational linguist, start doing research in that field, and build an expertise in some subarea. You might not know every programming language or relevant skill out there, but no one does. What matters is that you can convince someone that you're an expert in some part of it and can figure out what you don't know and how to fill in the gaps (work with others, teach yourself). Stop stressing over coursework, that's not where you should be spending your time anyway. 

* And the fact that the language department doesn't care about your research and wants you to do your job? seriously, that's something to complain about? this is what you're paid for.

You're right. By now I should find a specific topic and dig into it. I believe I'm onto it. As the department requires us to do the first two papers in distinct subfields, I'm trying to approach this topic from different angles and exploring different methods. In addition to this, I do hope though, I can learn knowledge from other related fields like computer science or cognitive science and be able to do some more exploratory and innovative work one day. Some of the knowledge cannot be learned with a simple textbook and best if there's someone leading you into it. But it is true that coursework is not the only way and the most efficient way. There are many other ways to achieve this goal. 

 

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