The mysterious life of a TA

The TA is a mysterious creature. Multiple types of TA exist, TA in the lab, TA in the class, TA in the conferences. Here, I will talk about the TA in the conferences*.

The TA in the conferences is actually a grad student who transforms as a TA for normally 80-150 hours / term. He has multiple tasks to do: preparing the conferences, grading papers and exams, answering questions, etc. When he transforms back to a grad student, the TA has readings to do, and most of all, a thesis to write.

The TA is like a Pokémon, he evolves and has new characteristics, but he can remember what it is to be an undergrad and he knows most of the subtilities and tricks to have more time / write to say nothing / find a good excuse.

Contrarily to a popular belief, the TA doesn’t live in his office. He often needs to get out: to go to a class, a (real) conference, to the library or to meet a professor. Occasionally, we can see the TA in a coffee shop or a restaurant. During the night, and sometimes even during the day, the TA is coming back to his house to rest peacefully.

While the TA often uses tools such as computers and phones, he is a little creature who also needs concentration and sometimes fresh air. Because of that, the TA is not always looking at his emails.

Finally, the TA is most of the time very glad to be in this position and to meet with people, have discussions and have a lot of fun while working. After a term, when the TA is retiring, he often misses his students.

With all these pieces of information about the TA, it’s important to note that:

  • Since the TA don’t live in his office and has a lot of other things to do, it’s great to show up to office hours or to an appointment;
  • While the TA can make mistakes, it is counterproductive to show up with a paper and asking for a new grade with no argument to support the revision – the TA and the student will lose their precious time;
  • While there is no need for a lot of formality, short and clear email will allow the TA to understand quickly the request/ question.


The TA is a great creature, be nice with your TA.

* Inspired by Elise Gravel «Les petits dégoûtants»

Banner Photo by @sundew_raindew // @gradlifemcgill

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