Interview with a TA

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The DL from a TA

Nikki Smith

Nikki Smith just graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies with a focus in Political Science. She will be applying to law school this year and entering law school in 2022. She has been a teaching assistant for 4 semesters in her college career and was a research assistant for one semester.

How did you become a TA? The position was advertised in the Department of Political Science newsletter and I reached out to the professor. It was about a year since I had taken the class. They asked for my Grade in Poli 110, I got an A-, so it wasn’t like I was a perfect student, but I was really close with the professor I took it from. They asked for a resume, my transcript, and I got the position without an interview.

How much did you get paid? $10 an hour, with varying hours. I averaged 10-15 hours a week. During Essays or midterms, it was about 15-20 hours per week. The great thing about being a TA is that you get to set your own hours.

What were your responsibilities? I had to attend every class and I took notes so when it came to testing time we could make sure the professor taught everything that was on the exam. We helped write and edit tests and often entered them into canvas. Grading essays made up the bulk of my responsibility. Most of the time office hours were 10 TAs sitting in the lab arguing politics or watching C-SPAN. I loved working with other TAs in larger classes. For a class with 500 people, I was assigned 50 students. When I was working in smaller classes, I had more work to do since I was the only TA. I even had the experience of getting in front of the class and teaching. Sometimes that was review sessions; for another professor, I actually got to co-teach a lesson with him.

What are the perks? Being on the other side and getting to see grading rubrics is great- I often applied them to my own writing. You learn a lot from the papers you grade, what makes a good essay vs a bad essay. The professors had a lot of trust in us and they didn’t micromanage. I felt like an independent employee rather than a student.

What were the downsides? You had to be really self-motivated and often busy season as a TA overlapped with your own midterms. Communicating with the athletic department about student-athletes was difficult. They were pushy, didn’t take no for an answer, and wanted special treatment for athletes. Ultimately my professor told them to never email me again! Thank you Dr. Cunningham!

Was it worth it? Absolutely. One of the professors I worked with offered to write a letter of recommendation for Law school. Being a TA is a great way for professors to see your work ethic and see how you interact with academia. It’s also how I got my research assistant position. It’s a great thing to have on your transcript, especially if you plan on going to grad school since it’s a well-respected position.

Nikki Smith

Common mistakes

1. Most people don’t know what a thesis statement is. Everyone needs help on their thesis- it’s something you perfect as you go through college. Your TAs will help you.

2. Be clear and concise. Most writers coming out of high school repeat the same point ten times. Often essays were no longer than 2 pages and students did not have enough evidence to fill in space. We see right through you and I will mark you down for it. It helps to do a second draft where you only focus on the organization of your paper.

3. Use more than the materials provided. TAs can help you find sources for your essays. The difference between a 90% paper and a 100% paper is always sources. Essays Meme

Best way to interact with a TA

First off, emails are wonderful. It’s a great option especially if you’re scared to go into office hours for the first time. Please be polite to the TAs, we do report it back to the professor and they may call you out if you say something rude. If you really think there’s an issue, approach the TA first about grading. I always gave students tips on how to do better next time. Ask why you got that grade before asking for a new one. We can’t answer any questions about accommodations, the professor handles all of that information. We don’t have much to do with exams; in some classes I wasn’t even allowed to see the exam beforehand. We can, however, help you know how to prepare, we work closely with the professor, and we know what the professor thinks are the most important parts of the class.

Come to office hours with predetermined questions. It’s more productive for you to come with a goal in mind and an idea of what you want to write about.

TAs are underutilized when it comes to essay writing. If you come in early enough your TA can go over it with you, give feedback, and help you do better.

We have to show up for office hours whether anyone comes in or not- you’re not being a burden if you come in and ask questions. We love sharing our passion for the subject and might try to convince you to join our major.

Thank you to Nikki Smith for your great advice and wisdom!

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Written by Lucie Sullivan, Nikki Smith on Jun 14, 2021