Every semester, some undergraduate students have to look to their peers for grades and advice.
Over six classes in the Wharton School and the College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have undergraduate teaching assistants in introductory courses. These include “Ideas in Mathematics,” “Calculus I,” “Introduction to Macro and Micro Economics” and “Introduction to Computer Science.”
Similar to graduate students who assist professors, undergraduate TAs are paid for their work. The type of pay depends on the department, said Wharton sophomore Laura Sluyter, who is a TA for Finance 103, “Business Economics.” She is paid based on a 10-hour week. College junior Jake Robins and College senior Jared Waxman, who are teaching assistants in the Mathematics Department, both receive stipends at the end of the semester. Robins added that TA positions do not count toward work study.
One TA for Math 170, “Ideas in Mathematics,” is a graduate student, Robins said, adding they share the same responsibilities such as holding four recitations per week, grading quizzes and proctoring exams.
However, not all undergraduate TAs plan to pursue careers in academia. Though he is interested in education reform, College junior Jim McCaney said he took the job to build his resume.
“Over the last year, I’ve been a big advocate for education reform. It gives me a foot in the door,” he added. “I’ve stood in front of a classroom, I’ve seen what works and what does not.”
College junior Dasha Donado is also not considering a career in teaching. He plans to apply to medical school in the future. She added the job was a good “resume booster.”
“I didn’t want to do the same research as everyone else,” she said. “Very few people have the opportunity to say they are a junior and a TA, especially being a woman in mathematics.”
“Sometimes grad students can shrug it off because they don’t want to TA calculus at the ages they are,” said College senior Jared Waxman, who is a TA for Math 104 — “Calculus I.” “They want to TA a class with subject matter in their field … For me it provides an opportunity to be a mock graduate student,” he said.
Qualifications for becoming a TA as an undergraduate vary by department. McCaney said he went through an interview process with the professor, while Sluyter needed only to complete the class the semester before.
Wharton and Engineering sophomore and Computer Science 110,“Introduction to Computer Programming,” TA Grace Wang added that the only requirement for her position was completing and doing well in the course. She said that she is “not much of a help” to those students who are more advanced, adding that this can result in “boredom” and “sometimes disrespect” from her students.
Math 170 TA Donado has also experienced disrespect from her peers in the classroom.
“I find that the [Liberal and Professional Studies] students are a lot more respectful than the undergraduates,” she said. “[Undergraduates] are often more casual during office hours, for example they will talk about boys or social things they would not say in front of a professor.”
In his experience with working as a TA for Economics, McCaney found that undergraduate TAs are more relatable to their students when compared with graduate student TAs.
“I try to connect with them on a student level,” he said. “I do not try to command authority. I am one of their peers. I try to act the same inside and outside of the classroom, only inside, I talk about economics.”
Engineering and Wharton junior Parth Doshi said that an undergraduate teaching his peers in Finance 101, “Monetary Economics and Global Economics” is better than graduate students.
“It’s a way for students to reach out informally,” he said.
Along with teaching undergraduates every week in recitation, Robins occasionally sees his students on campus.
“You definitely have to be careful where you run into students outside of class,” Robins said, adding that he has encountered his students “somewhere in between the two scenarios” of a bar or party. He also plays on a flag football team and often competes against some of his students.
“I’m only Facebook friends with two of my students,” Waxman said.Comments powered by Disqus
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