What are the criteria for Spring 2021 TA assignments?
Date: January 2021
Recently my department released the list of grad TA course assignments. However, some TA assignment/course pairings did not seem to make sense based on instructor request or student expertise. When I asked the department for more information on how TA assignments are made I received an ambiguous answer. I was told that there are “certain criteria” from the college that goes into assigning each TA to a course. I have not been able to find this information for my college and was wondering what these mystery “criteria” are?
Curious Grad Student
Dear “Curious Grad Student”,
For most departments, the art and science of making TA assignments is a complicated exercise. It’s also a very fluid process because new courses and sections are added or changed in the weeks before the term starts and graduate students’ funding needs change as they graduate, take leaves, win fellowships, or accept other assistantships. Certainly, student and instructor preferences might factor TA assignments but other considerations include:
- Prioritizing certain assignments for pre-A exam or post-A exam students, or students who are still within the period of guaranteed funding.
- Prioritizing assignments for students who might only have limited opportunities to serve as a TA (students on NSF GRFP or Sloan fellowships, for example).
- Factoring in whether the student has been a TA for the course previously.
- Advisees of newly-hired faculty members may be considered for certain TA opportunities in laboratory science disciplines, since new lab groups may not have GRA funding from research grants yet.
- TA workload – especially if a student had an especially heavy or light fall TA assignment. The department might try to compensate for that with the spring assignment.
- Matching TA skillsets to the course.
I understand that it can be frustrating to feel that the process for assigning TAs isn’t transparent in your field/department. You can raise the question with your DGS but recognize that departments, not graduate fields, often oversee TA assignments. The department chair or administrative manager might also be able to provide insights. If your field has an active student association this might be a topic that the association could raise for constructive discussion with the department leadership. In my experience, most departments do have fair processes in place to make their TA assignments and could explain their strategy. It might not change the outcome but would offer clarity on how decisions were made.
Best wishes for 2021,
Associate Dean for Administration