“This will be the last year I TA”
I’ve been saying this for the last two or three years. Yet every year I fill in the application to be a teaching assistant (TA) for the departmental undergrad laboratory course and submit it right on the deadline. And then I’m back. Why does that happen?
Once upon a time, I took the lab course in my second year of undergrad. It was my first practical experience with the biological techniques I learned in textbooks. That year I realized something important about myself; I was pretty good at bench work. By the end of the semester I declared (yes, I actually declared) to my lab-partner that I was going to grad school and that I wanted to TA the course someday.
Fast forward to my second year of grad school. I put in my application to become a TA as soon as the application call was live. Being a newbie, I was waitlisted. But eventually I was hired when a TA dropped out. It was happening!
Before I continue, here’s some real talk. As a grad student, if I want to have time for myself during the weekends, all of my time during the weekdays is devoted to grad work. Sure, the pay is a wonderful supplement to my graduate stipend, but it takes more than that for me to keep returning. Especially since the TA job requires me to spend five hours of prime lab time supervising the course and hours more correcting all those lab reports. TA’ing in my department is not a requirement, my time is limited, and I want to graduate one day.
For the first few years, being a TA was a tribute of sorts to the course that introduced me to the wonders of bench work. But over the course of the five years it started to mean more. TAs in the lab course typically work in pairs and we also spend a lot of time interacting directly with the undergrads. So, it’s a great way to meet new people, commiserate with fellow grad students and impart my grad-life, science-life, just-life wisdom to the younglings. Not only do the undergrads get to learn from me, but I learn a lot from them. Seeing so many of my students going on to work in research labs during the summer and as grad students makes me proud. We also develop and hone soft skills such as leadership, time management, conflict resolution, and communication, just to name a few. Moreover, being a TA added extra spice to my week and I get quite the kick out of it!
I am back as a TA and I invite you to join me as I share stories on my experiences and reflections over the semester!
So, will this be the last year I TA?