Working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) is a way to strengthen transferable skills, such as supporting senior colleagues, collaborating with team-members and building administrative experience. Moreover, if you hope to remain in academia after you complete your PGR research, building practical experience of teaching can be essential for future job applications. Whatever your motivations, being a GTA can be incredibly rewarding. One of the great benefits of being a GTA is that it removes you from your research for a short period and encourages you to spend time with other people who are still enthusiastic about the learning experience (although maybe not at exam time). So if you are thinking ‘I’d like to give it a go’, here are some tips on being a GTA here at the UofG.
Matthew (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
Where to Get Started
Each College, and indeed School, within the UofG has different needs from their GTA team. Generally, the idea is that GTAs support the senior teaching staff by supporting students’ learning and development. This can be through tutoring undergraduates in seminars, leading laboratory demonstrations or even by offering lectures and supervising taught postgraduate modules where appropriate.
Over at MVLS, there is less demand for tutoring and greater need for demonstrating due to the way courses are taught. This is also true, to a lesser extent, in the College of Science and Engineering. For those based at Garscube, and for other people based off-campus, it can be difficult to fit tutoring into schedules since a lot of teaching is conducted on the main campus. When travel-time is factored in it can be impractical to commit to only a few hours of GTA work. Yet, many PGRs in the sciences are keen to share their lab skills, where possible, by teaching in practical sessions. As such, researchers in the sciences often find their skills more suited to demonstrator positions or to supervising and mentoring students.
In the College of Arts and the College of Social Sciences, GTAs generally start out by leading seminars for undergraduate students (the numbers can vary, but expect between 10 and 20 students per group). While undergraduate students attend lectures, where key materials are presented, GTAs lead seminars to offer students the opportunity to explore these materials in more detail. As a GTA, it is your role to encourage students to share their ideas and thoughts on course materials and to lead wider discussions about key learning outcomes.
If you would like to be a GTA, the first step is to speak to your supervisor. It is important that your supervisor support your decision to become a GTA to make sure that this additional work does not negatively impact your research. Each college will have slightly different ways of recruiting. Your department may have an informal system where you are asked to support a member of senior teaching staff. On the other hand, you might have to notify the convenor of the course before submitting a letter of interest and a C.V. For first time GTAs, don’t be surprised if you are asked to attend a short interview as well. Bear in mind that departments often have more PGRs interested in being GTAs than they have spaces available, so if you are not asked to be a tutor this year, don’t despair! Ask to be reconsidered the following semester. Providing PGRs with teaching experience is something that most schools try to accommodate.
Snapshot of GTA training courses run by Learning and Teaching Centre
Whether you end up as a tutor or a demonstrator, you are required to take compulsory training run by the UofG Learning and Teaching Centre. The GTA Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education course is a once-only class for new tutors and demonstrators designed to make you aware of health and safety legislation, confidentiality issues and at highlighting your own responsibilities as a tutor. The Learning and Teaching Centre also run a series of seminars and workshops as part of the course ‘Developing as a Teacher‘, aimed at tutors, demonstrators and more senior teaching staff. Depending on your school, you could also be required to take the UofG online Equality and Diversity Training. There are also informal schemes run throughout the UofG intended to support GTAs, including workshops run across departments, so do check with your administration team or with your supervisor about training opportunities.
What’s It Like?
When you first start out as a GTA, you might be nervous to present yourself to a group of students—this is normal. It can be especially daunting if you are leading seminars based around topics that aren’t related to your own area of research. But don’t panic. The lecturers will provide you with tutor notes, separate to the students’ materials, to let you know what they want the students’ to gain from the seminar and to help guide your preparations. Usually, you will also have the chance to raise any concerns or questions you have in advance at staff-tutor meetings.
The best advice is to be open to change: technology will fail you at some point, now and then students will ‘forget’ to prepare in advance, and occasionally your group of 20 students will end up being a group of 3 because of weather, illness, or obscure rooms that no-one knows how to get to. You should also be open and honest with students: tell them what your own research is on, so they know (indirectly) that you aren’t an expert in every topic. If you don’t know the answer to something, tell them that you don’t know, but that you will find out and get back to them next week or via email. You will come to enjoy your GTA experience for a variety of reasons, not least spending time with other people on a regular basis!
Let us know your experiences as GTAs across the UofG in the comments below or over @UofG_PGRblog