This document is primarily written for new teaching assistants (TAs), especially for new graduate students, in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. As a new or potential teaching assistant, your job may seem ill-defined at present. This guide is intended to fill you in on what to expect, and pass on some advice we wish we had known from the start. The most up-to-date version of this document can be found in june:/cse/student-affairs/orientation/ta-guide/year.
A TA's job is to assist; we are not responsible for actually teaching an entire course. Teaching assistantships are generally half-time appointments (20 hours per week) or occasionally quarter-time appointments, which entail assisting specific faculty with their assigned courses. TAs are expected to work no more than 20 hours a week. Most TAs are assigned to undergraduate courses, but even first-year graduate students have been assigned to TA graduate courses in the past, though this is uncommon.
Duties are determined by the supervising instructor and may include such things as developing instructional materials, grading exams and homework assignments, conducting discussion and review sessions, providing individual student consultation, and perhaps even lecturing occasionally. Duties range from menial labor (copying, go-fering, proofreading) to delivering lectures or making up assignments and exams. TAs always grade.
In addition to sponsoring your studies, these positions provide invaluable experience for students looking toward academic careers. Even if you are not considering a career in academia, all PhD students are required to TA for at least two quarters. One reason is that teaching a subject really increases your depth of knowledge in that area. So, if you want to brush up on or learn about a subject area, TA the undergraduate course in that area!
Another reason is that, along with participating in seminars, being a TA is a good way to gain practice in talking to groups of people and in responding to questions and criticism. Such practice is extremely useful and will benefit you when you give your quals presentation, your general exam, conference talks, interview talks, your final defense, and beyond.