Requirement to be a teaching assistant

All graduate students are required to serve as a Teaching Assistant in two courses for academic credit before the PhD degree is awarded. Courses can be undergraduate, graduate, or medical, but must be in the Biological Sciences Division. To be eligible for credit, a course must offer the TA significant teaching experience, such as giving a full-length lecture, running a lab or field trip, or leading regularly scheduled, weekly discussion sessions. For those students who feel unprepared for teaching, a TA Training Course is offered every Autumn Quarter.  This course may count as one of the two TA credits. Students may not TA the same course twice, and may not TA for pay before completing the requirement.

FAQ for the Evaluated Teaching Requirement

 

Who must participate?

All BSD graduate students are required to fulfill the evaluated teaching requirement by serving as a teaching assistant in two different courses. These experiences are tracked through the registration system as a Pass/Fail course. You must pass both TA experiences before receiving the Ph.D. degree. You may not be paid to be a TA while completing this requirement.

How do I find BSD courses that need TAs?
  • Talk to your program’s faculty about courses they teach.
  • Talk to your program administrator, who may have ideas about which courses are looking for teaching assistants.
  • Talk to senior graduate students about courses for which they have served as teaching assistants.
  • Occasionally, notices also go out regarding teaching opportunities through the BSD graduate student listserv.
  • Contact the course instructor directly to apply for the TAship. 
How do I know whether a course is eligible for TAship?

It must meet the following criteria:

  • You may not have previously served as a TA for the course.
  • The course must be offered in the Biological Sciences Division to undergraduates, graduate students or medical students. Courses in other divisions are not eligible (exceptions may be made for students in the Biophysical Sciences graduate program).
  • The course must require significant student contact and a high level of teaching-related activities. Eligible TAships must contain at least one of the below elements:
    • Running laboratory sessions or leading field trips.
    • Giving one or two formal, instructor-monitored lectures in the course.
    • Leading weekly TA-run discussion sessions that are a required part of the course. Giving only one or two review sessions before exams is insufficient for the requirement.
  • The course instructor must be willing to fulfill certain obligations, both formal (written evaluation, grade recommendation) and informal (communication with the TA on goals and expectations of course at the beginning, continual monitoring and feedback on problems and progress throughout, and discussion about instructor’s evaluation of the TA and assigned grade at the end of the course). You should expect this kind of interaction with the course instructor of a teaching assistantship.
May I TA the same course twice to fulfill my divisional teaching requirement?

No. Students must TA for two different courses that meet the TAship eligibility criteria above OR take the TA training course and TA for one class that meets the above criteria in order to fulfill their divisional teaching requirement.

May I do something besides TA for an approved course to fulfill the requirement?

Yes. There are several options:

  • You may choose to take the TA Training Course (BSDG 50000) to complete one of the two TAships (offered in autumn quarter only).  
  • You may do an approved outreach experience with significant teaching involved: usually in K-12 schools or a science museum (contact Barry Aprison, the Education and Outreach Director for the Institute of Genomics and Systems Biology, for more details).
  • TA’ing at the MBL Bootcamp twice may count for one of the two TAships (contact Dean Vicky Prince if you are interested in TA’ing at the Bootcamp).
What do I have to do before the course begins?

After you have secured a TA position in an eligible course, you must:

  • Register it as BSD TAship for 100 units of credit:
    • Autumn: BSDG 100-50100-01
    • Winter: BSDG 100-50600-01
    • Spring: BSDG 100-50300-01
    • Summer: BSDG 100-50500-01
  • Complete a green TEACHING ASSISTANT REQUIREMENT FORM
    • Pick up: either from your Graduate Program Administrator or from the stand in front of BSLC 104B
    • Download PDF Form
    • **Forms should be submitted no later than registration for the quarter in which the TAship will be completed and at the latest by the first week of the quarter. No late forms will be accepted.**
  • Attend a meeting of TAs that will be held in the first weeks of the quarter (except summer: no meeting in summer quarter).

If you do not complete the forms or the registration on time, credit will not be granted. No credit will be granted retroactively.

How do I complete the requirement form?

NB: Without a completed set of forms, the TAship will not be considered eligible for the divisional requirement.

  • Complete and sign the top section.
  • Ask the course instructor to complete and sign the center section. Required elements include course number, course title (name of the course), the name of the instructor (the course director’s evaluation will go to the faculty listed), and the teaching opportunity that shows eligibility. By signing this form, the course instructor is guaranteeing that the TA will be given real teaching opportunities (see section Eligible Teaching Assistantships). If the center section is not completely filled out, it will be returned to be completed.
  • Ask your graduate program administrator to sign the form. The GPA may wish to keep a copy.
  • Return the completed form to BSLC 104B as soon as the TAship has been arranged or at the latest, at the time of registration for the relevant quarter (usually the 8th week of the prior quarter).
What if enrollment in my TA course changes or the course is cancelled?

The number of TAships listed for any course is based on a projection of the number of students who will enroll in that course. If the enrollment is very different from the projection, this may decrease or increase the number of TAs required for the course. Students should be aware that even though they may already have made arrangements with the course director to serve as TA for a particular course, there is no guarantee that their services will still be required if the number of students enrolled in the course is less than initially anticipated.

What do I have to do after the course to receive credit?

You must complete the TA self-evaluation, your course instructor must complete the TA evaluation, and your students should complete their TA evaluations before credit is granted. These evaluations are currently completed in online surveys. Course evaluations are not an acceptable substitute for the TA evaluations.

What is the TA Training course?
  • As approved by the Committee on Teaching Assistants and endorsed by the Dean’s Council in Summer, 1992, graduate students have the option of taking the Teaching Assistant Training Course for credit, to fulfill one of the two TA requirements. This course, offered every Fall quarter, covers a range of theoretical and practical aspects of teaching in a variety of formats including lectures, panels, and much interactive discussion and presentation. Videotaping students while they present formal, prepared minilectures to the class, followed by self- and class critique, is a hallmark of this course. Faculty participants are selected on the basis of student recommendations as well as high visibility and demonstration of interest in the future of teaching at the University of Chicago.
  • The driving force of the course are two “super” TAs, advanced graduate students with extensive teaching assistant experience. Since the TA Training Course involves intensive student participation, enrollment is limited to thirty participants. The course number for the TA Training Course (worth 100 credits) is BSDG 100-50000-01.
  • Anyone wishing to sign up for the course should let the Office of Graduate Affairs know (2-3905, BLSC 104B), since space is limited and places are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, on a list that is started during the summer. Green TA Requirement Forms must also be completed for this course: students should complete the top half, fill in “TA Training Course” in the space in the second section for “Course Title,” and turn them in to BSCL 104B. Additionally, the course must be registered for credit during Fall Quarter registration.
May I teach or TA for pay?
  • After TAing twice to fulfill the requirement, students may hold teaching assistantships for additional pay in courses with unfilled TA positions. Please be aware that teaching is time consuming and may not be appropriate at some stages of your dissertation work; excessive teaching could significantly increase your time to degree. Before considering taking a paid TA-ship you must consult with your faculty advisor, and you may also wish to seek advice from members of your thesis committee and/or the head of your graduate program.
  • Medical students, undergraduates, graduate students who do not have to meet the teaching requirement, and graduate students from outside the Division may also hold Teaching Assistantships with remuneration in unfilled positions.
  • The exception to the above are a half-time TAships, or TAships that are only for grading and photocopying services, generally carrying a $600 stipend. Half-time TAships are never eligible to fulfill the teaching requirement.
Does my prior teaching experience count toward my Evaluated Teaching Requirement?
  • Students with extensive previous teaching experience at a graduate student level are permitted to petition for waiver of the teaching requirement. The petitioner must provide documented evidence of prior teaching with enough detail that the Committee on Teaching Assistants, which decides on petitions, can properly evaluate the previous experience in comparison to the teaching assistant experience at the University of Chicago. Teaching experience acquired while an undergraduate also may be considered, if the students taught were also undergraduates. Teaching experience acquired teaching high school students is not eligible for waiver.
  • Exemptions are considered approved only when the Committee on Teaching Assistants delivers its ruling. Questions about petitioning should be addressed to the Graduate Student Affairs Administrator, 2-3905.
Where can I find more information about being a TA at UChicago in the BSD and about teaching in general?
  • The TA Handbook
  • For more information about teaching resources at the University of Chicago, see the Chicago Center for Teaching.
  • If you need help finding resources, if you want to continue to improve your teaching skills beyond the two required assistantships, or if you have questions about anything from how to get students in a discussion section talking to what to do if an undergraduate student disappears from class, BSD graduate student Lindsey Fong (lmfong@uchicago.edu) is serving as a Fellow at the Chicago Center for Teaching and is available to help individual BSD graduate teaching assistants.
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