BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter
My First Experience as a Graduate TA

AUTHOR: Patricia Al-Salom

As a TA for the first time in my graduate career, I have had many ups and downs. Although I was a TA during my undergraduate career, the responsibilities I have been faced with this year have been very different. This is the first time I have had to run two tutorial sections on my own and I’ve come up with a few pieces of wisdom that I’ve learned along the way. 



Treat your TA position as if it were another course, make deadlines for grading assignments and make sure to meet them! A personal experience that helped me learn this lesson was when I was busy with my coursework and working on a literature review and I left all 30 papers to be marked in one night… definitely not a good idea! Now I keep an agenda with designated grading times so that I can stay organized. 


2. It’s OK to make mistakes: 

Even though the undergraduate students see you as somewhat of an authority figure, it’s OK to admit to making mistakes. You don’t know everything and it’s important to acknowledge that at appropriate times. For example, a student once asked me a very specific question about touch receptors that I didn’t know the answer to. Instead of making up an answer, I told her honestly that I wasn’t certain of the correct answer and I simply looked it up for her. This way, I was able to learn new content and helped explain the answer to the student at the same time. 

3. Make sure to set boundaries: 

Students will try to push boundaries by sending you e-mails at midnight the night before an assignment is due. Early on in the semester, I made sure to let my students know that I would not be answering e-mails sent after 8 pm on Friday and I made sure to stick to that rule. This gave me time to answer all of the e-mails over the weekend and gave me some time off from constantly responding to students.  

4. Have fun! 

Although stressful at times, being a TA has been one of the most enriching experiences in graduate school for me thus far. You will really bond with your students and some may even recognize you around campus and say hello! Teaching tutorials, I have really gotten to know each of my students on an individual level. We have interesting discussions and I love teaching them the course content.  

Being on the other side of the teaching dynamic has been an invaluable learning experience that I can use in the future if I ever choose to be a lecturer. I hope you enjoyed reading some of the tips I learned along the way!