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What is a Teaching Assistant (TA)?

By: Jeremy Tobing
May 12, 2022

Teaching assistants — I see questions come up all the time from students first entering university about who exactly these people are and what their roles are in the classroom. 

I’m here to clear up any confusion about what a teaching assistant is and why you might want to consider becoming one in the future.

What is a TA?

A TA most commonly refers to a teaching assistant. They sometimes also go by teacher’s aides, course project managers and various other names depending on the course and their specific duties. Regardless, these all fall under the broader TA classification and refer to students who are a part of a course teaching team.

TAs are not professors, but they handle many of the same tasks as professors. TAs who are upper-year undergraduate students often handle tasks such as grading assignments and proctoring exams. TAs who are graduate students (often referred to as a “GA”) can take on more responsibilities including working with students in laboratories and holding exam review sessions.

Who Can Become a TA?

The requirements needed to become a TA vary from course to course. Positions for graduate students often pay more than undergraduate TA positions, but also come with more requirements. 

Some positions accept students currently enrolled in their third or fourth year, and other positions are only available to graduate students. The hiring department will look at your transcript to ensure that you received good grades in similar courses. Some positions call for students to have first taken and received a high grade in the same course before being able to teach it.

How Can I Apply?

Competition for TA positions can be fierce. Expect your standard job application requirements like a resumé submission, but you may also need to submit a copy of your transcript and letters of recommendation. 

Keep an eye out for available positions in your inbox. My program department occasionally sends out emails to third- and fourth-year students when they need TAs for first- and second-year courses. Applying through an email is actually how I managed to earn my spot on the CEN 100 Introduction to Engineering teaching team for the fall 2020 and fall 2021 semesters. 

Additionally, some people have success finding teaching and research assistant positions by networking with their professors. Your professors are more likely to remember you and recommend you for any positions not just if you do well in your studies, but also if you make an active effort to talk to them. 

I hope I’ve inspired some of you to become TAs one day! And remember — TAs are students just like you! Don’t feel that you need to be overly formal around them or call them by anything other than their first name. 

- Jeremy