T-A or Not T-A

As I was lounging around and enjoying my break during the summer, I was suddenly struck by the realization that I should apply for some sort of TA, RA or grading position. I immediately started e-mailing all of the professors whose classes I particularly enjoyed and whose research work I found especially interesting. After a couple of weeks of radio silence, I slowly started receiving responses. To my dismay, none were positive. The bulk of the e-mails informed me that the department was responsible for assigning TA positions and applications had already passed. But one reply, from a professor I had briefly served as a research assistant in the past, explained that while she would not be teaching the course this semester, she would contact me in the winter to discuss a grading position. Thankfully, she forwarded my information to the professor instructing this semester and as it turns out, he was in need of an extra grader, which is how I ended up with the job.

My experience as a grader, albeit limited, has been extremely positive thus far. Initially, I was really unsure of what to expect and I didn’t want to mess anything up by grading to generously or too harshly. It’s also been a year since I took the course, so I was extra nervous that I wouldn’t be familiar enough with the material.

As is usually the case, I was worried over nothing. The other graders (there are four of us all together) helped me out and showed me the ropes. And I was surprised to find that grading is actually a really collaborative effort. Basically, the way we grade in this particular course is by organizing a few grading sessions that everyone can attend, sitting around a big table with our textbooks and lecture notes at the ready, and working through the assignments or midterms. We each get a stack to grade on our own, but we’re constantly communicating and asking each other’s opinions to ensure consistency.

Although I was initially interested in a TA position, I’m almost relieved that that didn’t pan out. I’m finding the time commitment as a grader pretty demanding, especially since the first assignments were submitted right before my midterms. Between holding office hours and coordinating extensively with the professor, I can’t imagine how taxing a TA position would be. Shout out to all of the TAs out there who don’t get nearly enough recognition and appreciation. That being said, I would discourage any of you from applying to a position like this just because you think it’ll look good on your CV without really considering your availabilities and the amount of time you’d be able to commit. Keep in mind that you essentially have a whole class of 100 plus students depending on you, not to mention the other graders, TAs and the professor.

Throughout this process, I also learned a bit about the hierarchy of the TA system in the Faculty of Management, but keep in mind that it likely varies from faculty to faculty. My understanding is that there are teaching assistants at the top, followed by tutors and then graders. Teaching assistants are graduate students and are unionized, so as an undergraduate, I wasn’t eligible to be a TA. As a lowly grader residing at the bottom of the totem pole, I can’t provide much more information than that. But if you want further clarification about your viability as a TA, I would strongly recommend that you speak to an administrator at your faculty.

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