While many universities view teaching assistants as a reason for low retention rates in science programs, some students and faculty at TCU view them as an additional resource rather than a hindrance.Professors are responsible for creating syllabi and teaching courses, said Dianna Newbern, instructor of psychology, but graduate TA’s in the College of Science and Engineering have office hours and often help with labs.
Undergraduate TA’s are selected in the spring to assist with labs for the next school year, said Sarah Stack, a TA for principles of life science.
“It’s a goal that some students can strive for,” Stack said.
In “Partners in Innovation: Teaching Assistants in College Science Courses,” Elaine Seymour wrote that by allowing TA’s to observe science faculty members and scheduling regular meetings to discuss problems, universities can offer adequate instruction to students.
While TCU does not have a specific training program for TA’s, undergraduate TA’s in the biology department are required to attend a weekly meeting on the upcoming lab, said Stack, a sophomore neuroscience major.
“It really challenges me, not only having to know it (the lab) forward and back, but having to be able to explain it,” Stack said.
Graduate TA’s are also required to be in constant communication with their professors, Newbern said.
“It’s a mentorship between the professor and the teaching assistant, which is one of the reasons it’s so successful at TCU,” said Shannon Lewis Seitz, a graduate psychology student.
Newbern said 90 percent of TA’s function more like administrative assistants, but if they have already earned their masters she gives them the option to lecture. “Most of our graduate students are preparing to be professors, so it’s a great opportunity to learn experientially what teaching is about,” Newbern said.
Newbern and Seitz said TA’s are available to give extra help to students but that many do not take advantage of the option.
Stack said of her own classes, “sometimes it’s a little frustrating because TA’s don’t understand what you’re asking,” but said, “without TA’s the labs wouldn’t run nearly as well.”
Being a TA is not required to obtain a doctoral degree at TCU, but graduate TA’s in the psychology department work for professors in exchange for a tuition waiver and a stipend, Newbern said.
Seitz said it provides her a chance to “glean experience, whether it be constructing a test or lecturing.”
“Generally it’s acceptable for TA’s at state universities to have full responsibility for teaching,” Newbern said, “but that’s not how we do business here, that’s not how we teach.