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What Does a Graduate Teaching Assistant Do?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2014
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A graduate teaching assistant, also known as a GTA, is a graduate student who provides assistance to a professor with miscellaneous teaching activities at a college or university. The individual is generally an actively enrolled student, providing such services to help fund their education. Aside from monetary gain, students wishing to pursue teaching careers may take this position to gain instructional experience in an academic environment. Graduate students may have to meet certain requirements before being able to take this job. Generally, the individual will assist in his or her area of study, although some may be qualified to branch out into different areas as well.

In many cases, simply being a student is not enough to assume the position of a graduate teaching assistant. The student may need to apply for the job as he or she would for any other position. There may also be a general need to be enrolled in a related academic program. Sometimes, assistants are required to complete a training program in preparation for this type of college or university job. As part of the training, it may not be uncommon to dedicate some unpaid working hours as part of the training process.

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Typically, a graduate teaching assistant should be prepared to assume all roles of the active professor, should he or she be needed in the professor's absence. For this reason, the tasks of a teaching assistant can be plentiful. When in this position, the individual may assist the professor by administering tests, grading homework and examinations, lecturing and leading discussion sessions. Most assistants will also provide tutoring. Time can become limited for a professor, as many may have hundreds of students at a time; for this reason, a teaching assistant may hold office hours to meet with students in the event that the professor is unavailable.

Often, a graduate teaching assistant may be assigned to a research department. This may be especially true if research is his or her area of study. In this event, the student may be assigned to work in a laboratory rather than a classroom. The job duties may be somewhat different for a laboratory teaching assistant. When working in a lab environment, in addition to standard teaching duties, the assistant may also be responsible for setting up labs, making them ready for use and supervising student experiments.

Being a graduate teaching assistant can undoubtedly be a rewarding experience. A position such as this can be particularly beneficial for someone seeking to sharpen his or her teaching skills for a future career. College and university classes can be very large, which can make this position quite demanding. For this reason, an individual seeking to become a teaching assistant should be people-oriented, good with giving instructions and proficient with time management, as most assistants are usually enrolled students as well.

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