Graduate teaching assistant handbook

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1. Introduction

This website contains information for current and prospective graduate teaching assistants in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

More specifically, it contains an explanation of the TA offer process, departmental rules and information, teaching tips, links to other related websites, and additional information that TAs will find useful.

Prospective TAs should find the FAQ and TA offer process and criteria sections most useful.

Current TAs are responsible for all the information on this website. Most particularly, they should be familiar with the rules and procedures mentioned in the department rules page, and the ethical issues for TAs page, and should be aware of the rules in the other links. TAs will, we hope, find the teaching information and resources in the teaching tips, the online information on course management software, etc., and in other sections helpful in their TA work.

This site was put together with the help of the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) (formerly the Center for Teaching and Learning), and many of the teaching tips pages are based on CEI resources.

2. TA offer process and criteria

2.1. Introduction

Many questions TA applicants have involve how TA offers are made, and what criteria are used to determine who receives a TA offer. This section provides some details on these issues.

2.2. Other sources of information on TA positions

There are two sections on teaching assistantships in the Graduate Student Handbook.

  • In the "Financial Assistance" section, the subsection "Teaching Assistantships" provides an overview of the application process, criteria, terms of assistantships, duties and requirements, etc.
  • The subsection "Teaching Assistantship Departmental Policy" gives a list of general policies. The most important TA information from those documents is discussed below.

The computer science TA website contains a variety of information for CS TAs and TA applicants. The FAQ section in this handbook and TA Announcements page are the two links most useful to people curious about the how to apply for a TA position, and what their chances of getting one are.

2.3. Offers to incoming students

It is department policy to save at least eight appointments for new students and make the balance from continuing students. New student appointments are made as part of the admissions process for Ph.D. admits, based on merit. Note: eight is a minimum; in practice, the specific number of new students we appoint depends on a number of factors including how plentiful we expect TA positions to be, how many exceptional students apply, and how many students accept our offers.

Since new offers are made as part of the admissions process for Ph.D. admits, which new students receive a TA offer is decided as part of the application review process. This decision is made by the Graduate Admissions Chair, in consultation with the graduate admissions committee and the TA Supervisor. The criteria used to determine which applicants get offers are the usual ones for admission (academic record, the potential for graduate work, etc.); however, TA potential is also a consideration.

M.S. students who do not receive offers during admission are welcome to apply for any open positions when they arrive in fall. A few TA positions may be open at the beginning of fall classes; however, students arriving without support should realize that the chance of getting a TA when they arrive here in fall is small. Most students who arrive here without support are eventually able to find support, if not through a TA then through an RA or through other forms of support. However, prospective students should neither be overly optimistic nor overly pessimistic in this regard.

2.4. Offers to current TAs

Students who currently have a TA have a good, but not guaranteed, chance of getting an offer for the next semester. This decision is based on a number of criteria (see the criteria section below); this section discusses a few additional considerations.

It is department policy that students are eligible for a total of six semesters of TA support. This does not include any summer TA support, and is irrespective of the percentage of appointment; moreover, the department can provide exemptions to this rule based on departmental need. Note that the need is "departmental" (and so could cover, for example, rehiring an especially strong TA or a TA for a hard-to-fill TA position), but it is not the need of the student nor of their faculty advisor.

Having TAed less than three aggregate years does not guarantee a student continuing support, as a number of criteria are considered when TAs are appointed or reappointed. Long-term TAs should be particularly careful that they are making good degree progress, they can TA a number of different courses, and that their TA work is of exceptional quality.

Students who come in with TA support as part of the admission process are guaranteed an assistantship for one or two years. However, students with a one-year guarantee are almost always given a second year of support; and students are often given a third year of TA support if needed. Such students should make good degree process, do well in their TA work, and be able and willing to take on more advanced TA assignments (e.g., for advanced classes) in their second or third year. Note that second or third year support is not guaranteed in cases of seriously poor degree progress or TA performance.

2.5. Types of offers

Most TA offers are 50% offers. Such offers include full (or near full) tuition and health coverage benefits. A student with a 50% offer is usually assigned to work an average of 20 hours per week on one class; however, in some cases, the department splits the appointment between 2 classes.

Some TA offers are 25%. In this case the offer is for an average of 10 hours per week, and the offer includes about half the tuition and health care costs, with the student being responsible for the remainder. On rare occasion offers are for other percentages, such as 12.5%.

The department prefers to make 50% appointments with each TA assigned to a single class. However, due to our enrollment patterns, we have recently been forced to make more split 50% appointments, as well as more 25% appointments.

2.6. Students without support

The Computer Science & Engineering department supports a number of graduate students through TA appointments, and professors' research grants support many more. However, we are not able to support all computer science graduate students. Students should realize TA appointments are highly competitive, and we get many more applicants than the number of available positions. Some ramifications of this are:

  • It is no longer sufficient to be a good student or have a good general CS background to be a TA. Students need to stand out in some other way.
  • Students whose RA support or outside support is lapsing should not assume that they will be able to get a TA position instead. Such students are of course welcome to apply and will be considered along with all other applicants. However, they are not guaranteed a TA appointment.
  • Students who are TAs need to realize that it is no longer sufficient to do an "adequate but not great" job since there are unsupported students who could do a better job.

2.7. Special requests from faculty

Each semester we ask whether faculty have any special requests for TAs. Here are guidelines on this:

  • Students should be requested only if it will work out better for the faculty member and for the class. Faculty should know the students well enough to be sure this will be the case. So most, if not all, requests will be for students who have TAed the class before, taken the class before and excelled, worked with the faculty on a project, or have some other extremely strong credentials.
  • The department will not always be able to accommodate all special requests. So if a faculty member tells a student they will request them as a TA, that is not a guarantee that the department will make the student an offer. Special requests should be reserved for advanced classes. TA positions in service classes, required classes, and introductory elective classes will usually be filled by students who have a regular TA offer.
  • Special faculty requests should not be seen as an alternative way for an applicant to get a TA position. The normative way for such requests to originate is with the faculty member asking the student if they are interested, rather than students petitioning faculty.
  • Students hired due to instructor special requests are hired for a specific course to work with a specific professor, and unless that professor requests them again, they will not have special priority for future TA offers. This does preclude reappointing them --- they will be considered on the same basis as other unsupported students in the TA applicant pool. The one difference though is that we will have TA evaluation data on these students, and they should realize that since they have been hand-picked to TA a course where they should excel, the expectation is that they will excel. Students who do excel will boost their chances of getting a future TA offer, but students who do merely an adequate job decrease their chances.

2.8. Criteria

Students in the computer science Ph.D. and M.S. programs, the data sciences M.S. program, and in graduate programs related to computer science are welcome to apply for TA positions (however, by department rules, M.C.S. students are not eligible for TA positions in the Computer Science & Engineering department).

The primary criteria for getting or continuing a TA offer are communication skills, teaching ability and quality of past TA performance, how well an applicant's area of interest matches with department TA needs, and whether the student is in the PhD program. These, as well as other, secondary, criteria, are explained below:

  • Communication skills: this includes the ability to speak clearly, explain CS concepts well, relate to students, faculty, and staff, write well, etc. International students whose native language is not English must pass the University's TA English requirements to be eligible for a TA position.
  • Teaching ability and quality of past TA performance: this is measured by previous teaching experience, student evaluations, any faculty evaluations of TAs, etc.
  • How well applicants' areas of expertise match with departmental needs: Each semester there are some areas where it is difficult to find qualified applicants and some where there is a glut of applicants.
  • Ph.D. vs. Masters: the department gives preference in TA offers to Ph.D. students. M.S. students are considered only if there are no suitably qualified Ph.D. students available. (Students currently in the M.S. program who are in transition to the Ph.D. program are not considered Ph.D. students until the change is officially completed. Moreover, the department usually allows such a change only with strong faculty backing, which usually implies that the involved faculty member(s) will support the student with a research assistantship, rather than having the student rely on a teaching assistantship.) Moreover, MCS students are not eligible for CS&E TA appointments.
  • Program: in general, students in the CS&E department graduate programs have priority over students from other programs such as EE or Math.
  • Degree progress: students should make appropriate degree progress. This means taking and passing an appropriate number of classes, fulfilling the various degree requirements in a reasonable time, not taking overlong to complete their degree, and (for Ph.D. students) getting an appropriate rating on their annual degree progress evaluation.
  • Whether a student was admitted with TA support: Students who got TA support as part of the admission process have priority in continuing their TA support beyond its original guaranteed term.
  • Academic integrity: it is department policy that students with a record of academic dishonesty not be given TA offers (see also the sections on Ethical issues for TAs and Department Policy on Cheating by TAs in this handbook).
  • GPA: GPA is a lesser criterion that will be used to make coarse distinctions, not fine ones. For example, a 3.9 is not significantly better than a 3.8, but a 3.9 is significantly better than a 3.2.
  • Flexibility: some applicants are able or willing to TA only a small number of classes. This is not beneficial for their chances.
  • Seniority: seniority is a little complicated. One on hand, students who have been TAs for very long will have less chance if they exceed the 3 year aggregate TA support limit, or if they are not making satisfactory degree progress. On the other, students who were last hired in the previous semester will have less priority, if all else is equal, than students who have been TAs longer. Moreover, if all other things are equal, students who are currently TAs or who have recently been TAs will have priority for the next semester's offers over students who have not had a CS TA appointment, or who have not had a CS TA appointment recently.

2.9. Summer appointments

It is department policy to make summer appointments from among students who had an appointment in one of the semesters of the previous academic year. However, we employ only about a half dozen graduate TAs each summer, so these positions are quite competitive. Criteria that are weighed more heavily for summer appointments include whether the applicant was a new TA that came in with support the previous fall (the rationale here is that these students have some priority since they will have fewer opportunities for other support than students who have been here longer), quality of TA work, and whether a student has prior TA experience in the specific classes being offered that summer.

3. Teaching tips

This section provides a variety of tips that are useful for teaching assistants, including:

  1. Early feedback
  2. TA responsibilities
  3. What do I do if...?
  4. Suggestions from other TAs
  5. Suggestions from good teachers
  6. Promoting student participation

3.1. Early feedback

Many instructors find it useful to get feedback from students early in the semester. This helps in suggesting how to improve the course before it is too late to do so.

The following form is an example of an early feedback form for discussion sections. It asks about the overall effective of the discussion section, as well as the TA's teaching effectiveness. If you wish to use it, feel free to modify it as needed.

Using an early feedback survey
Handing out the survey

When handing out the survey tell the class the purpose of the survey (usually to improve teaching), and who will see it (usually just you). Encourage the students to submit thoughtful, candid responses. Also tell students how and when you plan on sharing the results of the survey.

Evaluating the feedback

If 20% or more of the students responded negatively on any item, you will probably want to examine it further. You may want to ask a peer, the instructor, or the Center for Educational Innovation (formerly the Center for Teaching and Learning) if you need advice on addressing any issues.

It is common for there to be contradictory feedback. This sometimes indicates that your teaching strategies are effective for some student learning styles, but not for others. If there is an item with very contradictory feedback, you may want to ask students for further, more specific, input. One approach would be to have students respond in writing to questions like "The instructor's explanation are clearest when..."

Review student comments to the open-ended questions carefully. First, look over the positive remarks. Then sort the suggestions for change into those you intend to change, those you cannot change or do not think it would be a good idea to change, and those that are negotiable.

Expect to get a mixture of results. Very few people get feedback that is all positive or all negative. Also, do not expect to be able to address everything. Usually focusing on improving a few key items is more effective than trying to address everything at once.

When summarizing the results to the class
  • Use a positive accepting tone. The manner in which you introduce the evaluation and discuss the results is crucial. Avoid being defensive, angry, preachy, or overly apologetic.
  • Select a few items that yielded positive responses and a few that you hope to improve. There's no need to go over every item.
  • If you decide to make changes, state what you intend to do differently and why.
  • Clarify, if possible, any confusion about major issues like the role of the discussion sections in the course.
  • Ask for further feedback if needed (e.g., "Several of you felt that the last assignment was confusing, but I need help in understanding why...")
  • When appropriate, enlist students' assistance in making a change. (e.g., "I'm going to try to speak more loudly, and I'd appreciate it if you signal me when I'm speaking too softly.")
  • Let students know what THEY can do to remedy the issues you've mentioned (e.g., asking more questions if uncertainty about assignments is an issue).
  • Thank the students for their input.
Further use of the results

Some people find it useful to look at the surveys again later on in the semester.

Early feedback form

The purpose of this survey is to give your TA information about his/her teaching effectiveness. This information will be used by the TA to try to improve the class; it will not be used in personnel decisions. Please be as accurate and as candid as possible.

DD=Strongly Disagree D=Disagree U=Uncertain A=Agree AA=Strongly Agree

1) The TA is knowledgeable about the material. DD D U A AA
2) The TA speaks audibly and clearly. DD D U A AA
3) The TA has good rapport with students. DD D U A AA
4) The TA invites questions and discussion. DD D U A AA
5) The TA provides clear answers to questions. DD D U A AA
6) The TA summarizes or emphasizes key points. DD D U A AA
7) The TA makes good use of examples or illustrations. DD D U A AA
8) The TA encourages students to think about the material. DD D U A AA
9) The TA provides helpful feedback on assignments and classwork. DD D U A AA
10) The lecture portion of the class and the discussion section fit together well. DD D U A AA
11) Overall, I find the discussion section useful. DD D U A AA

What things about this discussion section help you learn best?

How could this discussion section be improved? Please be specific.

3.2. TA responsibilities

One common concern of TAs is exactly what they are responsible for in TAing a class. Since TAs for different classes and instructors perform different duties, there is no single answer. The purpose of this form is to alert TAs to some of the area where there may be confusion. If you'd like, you might want to sit down with your instructor at the beginning of the class, and clarify any items mentioned here that you are unsure of.

Primary TA responsibilities
  • What duties will you perform, and roughly how much of your time is each expected to take?
    • Office hours:
    • Grading:
    • Assisting with assignment/quiz/exam preparation:
    • Attend classes:
    • Leading discussion sections:
    • Lecturing:
    • Holding review sessions:
    • Administrative:
    • Creating/maintaining class web page:
    • Others:
Course overview
  • As specifically as possible, what are the course goals and objectives?
  • What background should students have?
  • Who are the other TAs assigned to the course?
Initial tasks
  • What are you expected to do prior to the first class?
  • Are you expected to attend the first class? Are you expected or encouraged to attend all of the classes?
  • How frequently will you meet with the instructor and/or other TAs?
  • How can you best be contacted?
  • How can the professor and other TAs be contacted?
  • How often are you expected to check e-mail, phone, or your mailbox for messages from the instructor, other TAs, or students?
  • How promptly are you expected to reply to email, etc.?
  • How familiar are you expected to be with the course material (textbook, material presented in class, computing hardware and software, etc.)?
Office hours
  • When will you hold office hours?
  • When will the other TAs and instructor hold office hours?
  • What hardware and software will the class use?
  • What are your responsibilities for it?
Assignments, exams, and quizzes
  • How many assignments are there for the course?
  • When will these be distributed, and when will they be due?
  • Are there any special rules for how students submit their assignments?
  • How soon after assignments are due will you be expected to have them graded and ready to hand back?
  • What responsibilities will you have? Helping prepare assignments? Giving instructions about how to hand in the assignments? Helping collect and hand back assignments? Grading?
  • How many exams/quizzes for the course, and when will they be?
  • Will you be expected to help create quizzes or exams?
  • Will you be expected to help proctor quizzes or exams? If so, when?
  • Will you need to do any special planning (such as reserving certain blocks of time) to ensure that exams, assignments, etc. are graded in a timely fashion?
Discussion or lab sections
  • What will the discussion or lab sections be used for and how do they relate to the lecture portion of the class?
  • Will you be expected to lead discussion or lab sections?
  • If you will, which discussion or lab section or sections will you lead?
  • If you will, who will be in charge of preparing the discussion or lab section? You? The instructor? Another TA? How far in advance of the actual discussion or lab section will you receive information about what should be in it?
  • Who keeps the grades for the class?
  • On assignments and exams where more than one person is grading, what steps will be taken to ensure the grading is consistent?
  • How much feedback will you be expected to give to students on their work, and what form will it take (corrections on assignments and exams, answer keys, etc.)?
  • What are the general guidelines for grading?
Class web page
  • Will you be expected to create, maintain, or contribute to the class web page?
  • If so, what information will you be responsible for, and what format should it be in?
  • Is the class on UNITE?
  • If so, do you have any special duties associated for this (having an evening office hour, delivering material to the UNITE office, etc.)?

3.3. What do I do if...?

What if I have a TAing question and I don't know whom to ask?

If it's course specific, ask the instructor, or other TAs. If it's a general TA question,

What if I'm unsure what my TA duties are?

Since TA duties differ from class to class and from university to university, exactly what TAs are expected to do is a common question, particularly among new TAs. The best thing to do is to discuss this with the course instructor --- perhaps using the TA Responsibility Form (section 3.2 above) --- and with other TAs. In most large classes that have a number of TAs, at least one TA has TAed the class previously.

What if I don't know all the material for a class I'm assigned to TA?

Because of the dynamic nature of computer science as well as the shortage of qualified TAs for certain classes, TAs sometimes find they are not familiar with all aspects of a course they are assigned. In this case,

  • ask other TAs --- often they can tell you what you need to know or point you towards relevant resources,
  • discuss the situation with the instructor --- if they know far enough in advance they may be able to distribute the TA work so that each TA is most concerned with areas that he or she is most knowledgeable about,
  • budget extra time to learn more about the material.
What do I do if I encounter cheating in the class I'm TAing?

See the ethical issues for TAs (section 6).

What if I'm not sure whether a suspicious incident is cheating or not?

If you are not sure what constitutes cheating, discuss this with the instructor and other TAs. Certain activities (such as collaboration on assignments) may or may not be permissible in the class you are TAing. It is your responsibility to know what is normative in general (e.g., all TAs should know what the University of Minnesota considers plagiarism), and the instructor's responsibility to clarify any grey areas or special rules.

If you notice suspicious activity and are not sure if it is cheating or not, gather any relevant evidence and discuss it with the instructor if you think there's a likelihood that it is.

What do I do about student complaints?

This is a difficult question since there are so many possible situations. For example, students may complain to TAs about specific grading, the class in general, things external to the class, etc.

A few pieces of advice:

  • Be professional in your communication with students. Talk respectfully to and about students. Do not delay inordinately in answering e-mail. Grade in a timely fashion, etc.
  • Listen respectfully to students. Even if you ultimately do not agree with what the student requests, often the student will be satisfied if they feel you have heard their concern and have evaluated it fairly.
  • Be honest.
  • If you and a student have a disagreement, try to resolve it satisfactorily between yourselves before asking the instructor to intervene. However, if you and the student absolutely cannot resolve the issue, or if you're unsure about how to handle a situation with a difficult student, ask other TAs or the instructor for advice.
  • If a student voices a concern about another TA or the instructor, be realistic about what you can and cannot do. For example, unless you are the head TA for a class, you probably should not arbitrate disagreements between the student and another TA.
  • If there are any recurrent or widespread complaints, judge whether additional or alternative action is useful. If, for example, half the class questions the grading on an exam, it might be more efficient to have the instructor address this in class than to deal with each complaint individually.
  • Center for Educational Innovation is available for consultations on any TA-related topic.
What do I do if a student tells me they are having serious out-of-class problems?

Students sometime bring up serious out-of-class problems. If a student comes to you with such a problem you can contact University Counseling and Consulting Services.

What if I have disagreements with another TA, or with the course instructor?

This is another difficult one. Here are a few scattered thoughts on this topic:

  • Many disagreements are the result of poor planning, differing expectations, or poor communication. For this reason it's a good idea for the instructor and TAs to have a clear understanding of what each person's responsibility is, and to communicate with each other regularly. A number of classes, particularly those with a number of TAs, hold weekly meetings.
  • If you have a disagreement with an instructor or other TA, try to discuss it with them. Most instructors and TAs are amenable to discussing disagreements if the disagreement is reasonable and presented in a professional way.
  • Center for Educational Innovation is available for consultations on any TA-related topic.
  • If there is a serious problem that you are unable to resolve by any other means, contact the Graduate TA Supervisor.
What if I don't feel like I'm doing a good job TAing? What do I do if the evaluations of my performance in the course are disappointing?

Poor performance and/or evaluations can be disheartening, especially if you've worked particularly hard. Some steps to take:

  • If you are not doing so already, take active steps to improve your TAing --- read articles on what makes a good TA, ask students who are known to be good TAs for advice, etc.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the instructor how you could improve.
  • If you are not too far along in the course, and if you think it would be useful, use the early feedback forms (see section 3.1) to get input from students,
  • If you have past student evaluations, look at the detailed sections and choose a few specific items to work on,
  • Check with the Center for Educational Innovation. They are available for individual consultations, and hold various workshops throughout the year.

3.4. Suggestions from other TAs

Most of these tips are based on suggestions from previous or current TAs:

  1. Meet with the instructor at least a week before the beginning of classes. This gives you a chance to learn what your responsibilities will be, and gives you time to do any preliminary work you need to do before the start of class.
  2. Be professional. Don't be late for office hours or meetings; answer e-mail and phone messages in a timely manner; etc.
  3. Talk with other TAs. Other TAs often can provide suggestions on what works best in a course, or answer general questions about TAing.
  4. Provide ample feedback to students in a timely manner. One complaint sometimes heard from students is they get too little feedback on assignments and exams.
  5. Know what resources are available so that you avoid spending time on nonproductive items. Examples of resources:
    • Class lists (including pictures of the students in the class) are available through the teaching section of your myU page.
    • Class web pages: Information about class web pages is on the CSE Labs Course Resources page. In particular, if you have to develop a class web page, you might be able to copy and modify an existing one, rather than develop a new one from scratch.
    • Previous TAs: we try to pair new TAs with TAs who have TAed the course before; however, this is not always possible. If you need advice from a TA who has taught the course previously, and do not know who the TA(s) are, contact the Graduate TA Supervisor.
    • Training Sessions: the Center for Educational Innovation holds a number of training sessions in Fall for new and continuing TAs. The Center also holds seminars on a variety of topics throughout the year. Moreover, center staff are available for individual consultations on specific issues you might be facing.

3.5. Suggestions from good teachers

Here are some tips to TAs from good teachers:

  1. Be professional. TAing a course is a professional job, and is an important part of the university's and department's mission. It is not just a way to earn money or something that might look good on a resume.
  2. Treat all students with respect and strive to help all of them to learn. All the students registered for the course have a right to be there -- not just the smartest or the most forthcoming or those whom you get along with best.
  3. Be enthusiastic! Let the students know you want to be there, and you want to work with them. Let them know that they're important and that you care about what they have to say and how they do in the class.
  4. Draw energy and enthusiasm from students who are engaged in the subject and then try to give back some of that to other students who are less engaged.
  5. Be realistic about how quickly students can pick up new material. You know more about the material than the students, so realize that even though it may be simple for you, it may not be easy for students learning it for the first time.
  6. Listen to what you're saying from the students' points of view and adjust accordingly. Because they have a very different experience and knowledge to draw on, what you say is not always what students hear.
  7. Prepare for class! It's not enough to be expert on a subject. You have to be able to teach the subject to others who are less interested, motivated, knowledgeable than you. That means you must carefully think through not only what you'll do in class but HOW you'll do it.
  8. Encourage questioning, both verbally and non-verbally. Help students ask the right questions. Model good questioning and answering.
  9. Get feedback from students to gauge whether what you are doing is effective or not.
  10. Don't rush to fill in the next segment of the class or move on to the next point. When you ask questions in class, wait several seconds for a response.
  11. If you don't know something, don't bluff. Admit you don't know and find out for the next class.

3.6. Promoting student participation

Two questions TAs often have are:

  1. How to figure out (quickly) what students know and what they need help with?
  2. How to get students to participate in class, especially in class discussions?

There are a number of techniques for addressing these concerns. Here are a few possibilities. These are most useful for TAs who lead discussion sections, but can also be adapted by other TAs for use during office hours, review sessions, etc.

  • Use between class writing as a starting point for a discussion. Have students work problems or write about assigned reading, and then start by asking students to share the most important idea(s) from their writing.
  • Use beginning of class unstructured writing to generate thoughts on a topic. At the beginning of a new topic ask students to brainstorm about a problem, list words associated with a concept, draw a graph that shows how certain concepts fit together, etc. Have students first write down their ideas, then ask the entire class for input. This will help you understand what students' background on a topic is, where possible misconceptions or conceptual gaps may be, etc.
  • Use beginning of class writing to generate topics for a class. For example, ask students at the beginning of class to write down and submit the questions they are most interested in. Then gather the questions, and select ones to answer. In selecting questions, answer the ones that you think are most important and of interest to the most students; you can also invite students whose questions were not answered to see you in office hours if your wish, or you can post answers to the class web page.
  • Use short writing as a means for students to gather thoughts before a discussion. Some students are hesitant to participate in class discussion until they have had time to reflect. Pose a discussion question, have students write on it informally and on their own for a minute, and then ask for responses.
  • Have people discuss a problem as a group and then write a succinct answer that everyone in the group understands and agrees with. You can collect the answers if you wish to assess peoples' understanding.
  • Use short writing as an end of class quick summary. This is an often-used technique and has a number of variants. One asks students to list the most important concepts they learned in class that day, as well as any questions they have. Another variant is to have students identify the "murkiest" point from the class. You can address these areas of confusion outside of class, e.g., on the class web page, or in a future class.

4. Department rules

All teaching assistants for CSCI courses need to be aware of the following department rules:

  1. Availability
  2. Absences
  3. Academic misconduct
  4. Assignments, exams, and grades
  5. Books
  6. Communication
  7. Confidential student information
  8. Duplicating
  9. Final grading
  10. Office hours
  11. Planning for classes
  12. Questions
  13. Resignations
  14. Some additional comments on professional conduct
  15. Start of classes
  16. Training

4.1. Availability

There is an expectation that TAs will be physically present on campus during the semester of their TA work. TAs with significant time restrictions (for example, who can only be on campus evenings and/or weekends) or who will be out of town during extended periods of time should not accept TA offers. TAs should also be present on campus at least a week before classes start, and should not leave at the semester's end until all their TA work is done.

4.2. Absences

If you cannot hold your office hours due to illness or other circumstances, and are unable to get another TA to cover for you, please call the main office (612-625-4002) to let the receptionist know. They need to cancel the office hour and answer students' questions about the cancellation.

You also should contact the faculty member in charge of your course whenever you are unable to perform any of your duties.

If you are assigned to TEACH a class and will miss it for one day, please call the main office (612-625-4002) and report what arrangements you have made to have someone teach for you. If you will miss more than one day of class, you will need prior approval from Graduate TA Supervisor.

4.3. Academic misconduct

TAs hold positions of responsibility. For this reason, academic misconduct by a TA is a particularly grave situation and the department has adopted a rule that academic misconduct by a TA can be grounds for termination of the TA position. Moreover, the department will not offer TA positions to students with a record of academic misconduct.

4.4. Assignments, exams, and grades

Because TA mailboxes are too small and lack the needed security, assignments cannot be accepted in the Computer Science & Engineering main office. Students should turn in hard copy assignments during class or office hours.

University policy mandates that assignments and examinations should be handed back in class or office hours rather than placed in the hall for students to pick up.

If you wish to post grades, you must do so in a way that guarantees student privacy, such as through Canvas.

4.5. Books

Please make textbook requests at the Computer Science & Engineering reception desk by filling out a request form with your name and course number. You'll receive an e-mail reply about when the book is ready. This will usually be next day, but will be longer when we need to order the book.

4.6. Communication

Each TA will have a mailbox. In general, you should check yours at least once every weekday. You should also check your email at least once every weekday, and more often if requested by the teacher you are working with.

All TAs must have their current mailing address and home phone number on file. Please make sure your current information is online at Employee Self-Service website.

On occasion we get complaints from instructors that they have not been able to contact TAs. Please respond to all e-mail, phone messages, etc. from instructors and department staff in a timely manner.

4.7. Confidential student information

Student ID numbers, grades, etc. are confidential information. Disclosure of private information is an extremely serious matter so all TAs should be very careful that private information is not posted on web sites, left laying around where others can see it, etc. Here are some specific rules:

  1. All TAs should know what information is public and what is private. See the student records policy page and the FERPA page if you are unsure about this. Note that not only are items like grades, student ID numbers, etc. private, but so are items like class lists. If you have any questions about whether information is private or public, please ask the Graduate TA Supervisor before making it public.
  2. The FERPA rules apply not only to people outside the University and department, but also inside. So, for example, not only is it a FERPA violation to make class grades publicly readable, or send them to someone outside the University; but it is also a FERPA violation to let CS&E office staff, system staff, TAs working on other classes, faculty other than the one you are TAing for, etc. view confidential files for the class you are TAing. Once again, if you have any questions on this please ask the Graduate TA Supervisor. (Please note: due to the insecurity of email, TAs should avoid using email to communicate FERPA protected information. For example, if different members of a course staff need to work with a grade file, they should set up the grade file in Google Drive and access it there directly rather than emailing the grade file to one another.)
  3. If you use Google Drive to store confidential information: (i) make sure you use your U or M account (the account associated with your University user ID, not a personal account); (ii) be careful when sharing that information to ensure that you share it only with other course staff who need to access it, and not with anyone else.
  4. Note grade files and other similar files must *not* be stored on laptops, local machines, home computers, or in your home directory or /.www, /web, /project directories. Note this includes the class web directory (including having a .grades subdirectory in that directory).
  5. Also be careful with any hardcopies of private information. Please store such copies in a secure location, and shred them when you are done with them. You can give old hardcopies of grade files, etc. to the receptionist in the CS main office to be shredded.
  6. In general be very careful not to store confidential information --- whether student information or course information --- on a laptop, in the course web directory, or in your personal directory. This is not a spurious warning: the department has had more than one incident in the past where laptops have been stolen, or where information in a web directory was inadvertently made world-readable.

4.8. Duplicating

The department provides copying for examinations and other class material. However, if you wish to distribute notes, examples, etc. please post them on the class web page if at all possible (rather than making hardcopies). If you need to give out lengthy material in hardcopy, please make them accessible through the Bookstore or any of the local copy houses. The students can then purchase their own copies. The University Copyright Permissions Center works to secure permission for copyrighted materials used in courses; please contact them if you have any questions.

There is a 24-hour turnaround time required for course material that you would like the office staff to copy for you. If you have a long assignment or examination, please allow extra time. If you have special requests or extremely urgent jobs please talk to the CS&E front desk.

4.9. Final grading

After finals, TAs should not leave town until ALL their grading for the class is finished. You must check with the instructor of your class before making any travel arrangements.

4.10. Office hours

Prior to the beginning of the classes, you should discuss specific office hour times with the instructor.

TAs with a 25% appointment should have at least 1 office hour per week. TAs with a 50% appointment should have at least 2. These are minimum amounts, though, and for many classes the instructor may ask you to have additional office hours.

Office hours should be held in a room set aside for that purpose (currently Keller Hall 2-209 and 2-246). If you have a compelling reason to hold the office hours elsewhere, please get the department's approval before doing so.

If you wish to hold your office hours in one of the open classroom labs, please notify Office Manager about this. These labs can be reserved by other classes and departments; and we have had occasions in the past where TAs have been holding office hours in such labs without notifying the department, only to have a conflict arise when another department reserves the lab.

TAs for evening classes are reminded to have AT LEAST one office hour in the evening.

4.11. Planning for classes

No later than the first day of the appointment, you should contact the instructor for the course you will TA. At this time, you should discuss items such as what your specific TA duties will be, what time you will hold your office hours, whether or not you will lead discussion sections (if the class has discussion sections), and whether the instructor needs you to do any work prior to the first class.

4.12. Questions

You should discuss any course specific questions with the instructor or other TAs. General questions can be handled by the department front desk staff (612-625-4002). Questions about TA procedures, textbooks, and appointments should go to the Graduate TA Supervisor.

4.13. Resignations

The department has the following policy:

  1. Teaching assistants may resign their TA appointment (e.g., for an RA appointment), if they resign prior to the announced resignation deadline (which is usually 4-6 weeks before the start of classes each semester).
  2. TAs who wish to resign their TA appointment after the above deadline will need written permission from the Department Head or TA Supervisor.
  3. The department will not process RA offers to TAs who resign without meeting these criteria. TAs who resign less than two weeks before the beginning of class may forfeit their eligibility to receive any form of support from the department in the future.
  4. If formal TA offers are not sent by CS&E HR/payroll before the resignation deadline, applicants who will (or will likely) receive offers will be contacted by email soon before the deadline. If their plans have changed and they no longer wish to accept the TA offer, then they will need to inform the TA Supervisor by replying to this email by the resignation deadline. Otherwise, they will be expected to accept the formal offer when it is made and will be subject to the other provisions of this policy.

TAs should not resign after classes have begun.

4.14. Some additional comments on professional conduct

TAs are officially employees of the University of Minnesota, and are therefore held to high standards of professional conduct. This includes, but is not limited to, avoiding academic misconduct; avoiding nepotism, sexual harassment, and other inappropriate interpersonal conduct; taking appropriate care of students records and confidential course material; being present and on time to course staff meetings, office hours, etc.; and replying to communications from students, other TAs, the course teacher, and department staff in a timely manner.

One part of being a successful TA is to treat all students with respect and strive to help all of them to learn. This means avoiding inappropriate behavior such as making disparaging remarks about students, or engaging in sexual harassment. It also means not limiting TA help to certain students in the class. Consider the following scenarios:

  1. A TA is also a member of a University club. Is it OK for the TA to give club members copies of past exams, answer keys, etc. that the TA has access to?
  2. A TA has a family member taking a class. Is it OK for the TA to be a TA for that class?
  3. Is it OK for a TA to provide special help sessions for a student the TA particularly likes?

Each of this illustrates a potential problem. In the first scenario, a couple relevant factors are whether the teacher is OK with the club members having the material, and whether students in the class would also have access to the material. For example, if the TA gave club members in the class copies of the material, but others in the class did not have access, then that is unfair.

The second scenario brings up the topic of nepotism. This is an important enough topic that the University has an official policy on Nepotism and Personal Relationships. TAs should avoid evaluating the work of anyone they are closely related to, or have a close relationship with. If this situation arises, TAs should consult with the teacher: in many cases it will be possible to structure the TA's duties to avoid any problems. However, in some cases it might be necessary to assign the TA to another class.

The third scenario likewise brings up some potential problems. Being willing to give students extra help is of course laudatory, and is not a problem in and of itself. However, problems can arise, for example, if a TA is willing to help only students the TA likes, or if the TA is trying to use the help sessions to start a romantic relationship.

In summary, TAs should

  • Treat all students with respect, and aim to help all to learn.
  • Avoid giving any students an undue advantage. (TAs will, of course, need to use good judgment about what "undue" means. Note, for example, that holding a special help session for students who are struggling would be fine.)
  • Know and follow University rules about behavior such as nepotism and sexual harassment.
  • Use good judgment when deciding what is and is not appropriate TA behavior, and ask the course teacher, TA supervisor, etc. when unsure.

4.15. Start of classes

TAs should contact the instructor they are working with *prior* to the start of classes. In the past, we have had problems with TAs not being available until the first day of classes (or later!). As a general rule TAs should be on campus a week before the start of classes, or should get explicit prior permission from the course instructor that they can arrive after that. Note that due to the problems late arrivals have caused, the department might need to institute penalties for TAs who arrive late.

4.16. Training

In the fall, all new TAs are strongly encouraged to participate in the TA orientation and teaching workshops help as part of the Teaching Enrichment Series by the Center for Educational Innovation. There is also departmental training for new TAs. Dates and times of this departmental training will be emailed to the new TAs.

International TAs who have not passed the University English requirement must sign up for one of the University TA English classes.

5. Department contact information

Department of Computer Science & Engineering
4-192 Keller Hall
200 Union St SE
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Telephone: 612-625-4002
Fax: 612-625-0572

TA offices: 2-209 Keller Hall 612-626-7512 and (with reservation) Keller 4-240
TA mailbox locations: 4-201 Keller Hall
Copy machine location: 4-192 Keller Hall (open: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. M-F)

Position/Program Contact Email Phone
Department Head Mats Heimdahl 612-625-0726
Graduate TA Supervisor Nick Hopper 612-626-1284
Office Manager Dania Sidhu 612-625-4002
Payroll/Budget Phil Croteau 612-625-6909
Systems Operator 612-625-4002
Textbooks Dania Sidhu 612-625-4002
Keys Dania Sidhu 612-625-4002

6. Ethical issues for TAs

This section provides information on ethical issues and academic misconduct, including:

  1. Professionalism
  2. What constitutes academic misconduct
  3. Tips for preventing cheating
  4. Handling cheating
  5. Academic misconduct links
  6. Cheating by TAs
  7. Conflict of interest and nepotism
  8. Unethical requests from instructors
  9. The start and end of classes
  10. Outside work
  11. Discontinuing another position to take a CS TA position

6.1. Professionalism

Be professional in your TA work. Most complaints the department gets—from both students and instructors—are about missed office hours, assignments not being returned in a timely manner, unanswered e-mail, etc.

6.2. What constitutes academic misconduct

If you are not sure what constitutes cheating, discuss this with the instructor and other TAs.

Certain activities (such as collaboration on assignments) may or may not be permissible in the class you are TAing. It is your responsibility to know what is normative in general (e.g., all TAs should know what the University of Minnesota considers plagiarism), and the instructor's responsibility to clarify any grey areas or special rules. Two websites that might be useful are the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity site, which contains a couple of FAQs as well as links to university documents like the Students Conduct Code, and Academic Conduct Information for New CS&E Students.

If you notice suspicious activity and are not sure if it is cheating or not, gather any relevant evidence and discuss it with the instructor if you think there's a likelihood that it is.

6.3. Tips for preventing cheating

  • Clarify what is and is not permitted. Rules should be posted somewhere students can easily refer to them (e.g., the course web page). (Note: it is university policy that each syllabus should have a section on academic misconduct. However, it is often useful to have additional, more detailed information posted as needed.)
  • Talk with the instructor (and other TAs) about what is and is not acceptable behavior for students. Do this especially if either you are not sure yourself what is or is not acceptable, or if there are some class rules (e.g., amount of collaboration on assignments) that you are not entirely sure about. We want to avoid the situation where the instructor is telling students one thing, and a TA is telling them something different.
  • The class should have reasonable collaboration rules. For example, telling student that they can never discuss anything about assignments is unreasonable.
  • Get to know students. Students are more likely to cheat if they think that the professor and TAs do not know who they are.
  • Be careful with sensitive information like grading keys. Do not leave them laying around unattended, or in unprotected computer files. Never let a student use your computer account.
  • Log homework when it is handed in. Otherwise, if you are TAing a large class and passing homework among a number of TAs in the course of grading it, it is difficult to tell whether a "missing" assignment was lost during grading, or was never handed in.
  • If possible, have students use alternate seating during exams.
  • If alternate seating is not possible, and if you are developing an exam, make different versions of exams.
  • Clarify (in advance) what, if any, types of computing devices can be used during exams. Remember, "calculators" can store an immense amount of information, and students with a laptop, cell phone, etc. may be able to access outside information from the exam classrooms.
  • If you are developing an exam, make it an open book exam if appropriate.
  • If you are developing an exam, make sure it is reasonable and fair and can be finished in the time allotted.
  • Have multiple proctors for exams. When proctoring, circulate around the room rather than being in a fixed location.
  • When grading, circle and/or comment on what is incorrect to prevent students from correcting mistakes after grading and asking for more points. Mark empty pages or large blank spaces to prevent students from filling them in after grading.
  • On assignments and exams, have students show their work rather than just giving a correct final answer or result.
  • If you catch someone cheating or otherwise engaging in suspicious activity, take appropriate action. Students are more likely to cheat if they think others in the class are doing so without consequence.

6.4. Handling cheating

If you notice suspicious activity, you first need to decide whether it is likely that cheating occurred, and, if so, whether there is reasonable evidence to support that suspicion. If you think that cheating did indeed occur, or if you are not sure, but have a strong suspicion that it did, then you should always report this to the course instructor. More specifically, you should:

  • Gather evidence: save or make copies of any papers or computer files involved.
  • Get additional support: if possible, get additional witnesses so that you have more evidence than your word against the student's. For example, if you notice cheating during an exam, notify the instructor and/or other proctors.
  • Take notes: write down any additional information that might be relevant, and which you might not remember if the situation is contested at a later date.
  • Discuss with the instructor: the instructor will then need to decide what further action to take. If the instructor determines that cheating has indeed occurred, there are department and college procedures he or she will need to follow.

Additional information can be found at the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity site.

6.5. Academic conduct links

6.6. Cheating by TAs

The CS&E department has a posted policy and process for cheating by TAs. Cheating by TAs, whether in their TA duties or in the classes they are taking, is a grave offense. It is department policy that TA offers not be made to students with a record of cheating.

Please realize that TAs are held to a high level of professionalism in this area. It is your responsibility to be well informed about what the University and department consider academic misconduct. It is also your responsibility to make good judgments about academic conduct. Ignorance or lack of good judgment are not excuses for academic misconduct.

6.7. Conflict of interest and nepotism

If you are assigned to TA a class with students whom you know in it, and feel that you will not be able to grade them fairly, please discuss this with the class instructor. In extreme cases, such as a TA's spouse taking the class, please also inform the department graduate TA supervisor since this may require a change in TA assignment. You should not be assigning grades for, or evaluating the work of, anyone you are closely related to or have a close relationship with. See the university's policy on Nepotism and Consensual Relationships for more information.

You should also be careful about what type of information you provide to people you know about CS classes. Providing general information is fine, but you should not provide "inside information" (information that you as a TA have special access to, but which other people cannot find out). For example, suppose you have old exams keys for a class you have TAed or are TAing. This information was not accessible to students but was only given to TAs for grading purposes. Then giving the information to students who you know and who are currently in the class would be problematic.

6.8. Unethical requests from instructors

If an instructor asks you to do anything that you think is unethical, please discuss the matter with the department Graduate TA Supervisor or the Department Head.

6.9. The start and end of classes

Class planning is very important. You should contact the instructor for the class you are TAing at least one week before the start of class. In the past, we have also had problems with students leaving before the end of the term or being difficult to find during grading. Please make sure that you do not leave until all your grading work is done.

6.10. Outside work

If you accept a TA position, you are expected to work approximately 20 hours per week during the term of that appointment. If you have additional commitments, you must make sure that you have ample time to do everything. Your TA duties should be a priority.

6.11. Discontinuing another position to take a CS TA position

The department sometimes gets TA applications from students who have an RA position or have a TA position in another department. These students have the responsibility, before accepting any CS&E TA offer, to ensure that discontinuing their RA/TA will not create any problems.

7. Department policy on cheating by TAs

7.1. Reporting misconduct

When academic misconduct occurs in the CS&E department, the professor should follow the usual university procedure (see the information at the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity site). However, if the student(s) involved is a computer science grad student, the professor should also report the incident to the CS&E department for a possible TA-related penalty. 

Once the department receives an allegation of academic misconduct, it should investigate it. If the misconduct has resulted in a class penalty, and the student chooses to appeal it, the department will usually wait until the result of the appeal is known before deciding on any TA-related penalty. However, in extreme cases, the department may decide sooner.

7.2. Penalties

Possible penalties include:

  • No penalty: this should be the outcome only when the cheating allegation was erroneous, or when there was no solid evidence to support the cheating charge.
  • Probation: a truly minor offense may result in probation. Probation means (i) a further offense, even a minor one, will result in a more severe penalty, (ii) the student's advisor will be notified, (iii) if the student is a current TA, the professor(s) they are TAing for will be notified, and should exercise extra oversight, (iv) the student will need to meet with the TA supervisor to discuss the misconduct incident [Note 1: "truly minor offenses" should be truly minor. Note 2: while probation does not preclude a student from getting a future TA offer, it lessens their chances.]
  • Barring the student from any future TA offers: this or the next penalty (termination of a current TA position) will be the usual penalty for incidents of academic misconduct.
  • Termination of a current TA position: a current TA involved in academic misconduct may have their position terminated in accordance with the university rules at the Graduate Assistant Employment site.

The penalty should be decided by the TA Supervisor in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Particularly troublesome cases may be referred to the Department Head or one or more faculty designated by him or her.

Once a decision is made, the department will notify the student by letter. The letter will relate the decision, reasons for the decision, and the appeals process. A copy will be sent to the student's advisor.

A student may appeal a TA-related penalty. The initial appeal is to the department. The student should send a signed hardcopy letter to the TA supervisor and DGS explaining why the TA-related penalty should be reconsidered. This must be done within 10 days of receiving the letter about the TA-related penalty. The TA Supervisor and DGS will then reconsider the student's TA penalty. A decision on the appeal will be sent in writing to the student, with a copy to their advisor. This letter should include information about the procedure and appropriate university mechanism for further appeal, should the student wish to do so. The mechanism for further appeal will depend on the situation. In cases where the mechanism is not defined, the department will work with the student and the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity to come up with a mutually agreeable mechanism.

7.3. Additional notes

  1. By university policy, professors should report all cheating cases to the University's Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. They may also consult with this office on any complicated misconduct situations.
  2. Accused students often claim that what they did was not cheating, that they did not realize it was cheating, or that they did not intend to cheat. There is a faculty obligation to (i) include a section in the class syllabus about what is or is not permitted, (ii) include further details or clarifications as needed in other course information (e.g., a file on assignment policies posted to the class web page), (iii) clarify, when confusion occurs, what is and is not permitted. However, there is also a student obligation to know what is and is not normative, and to exercise good judgment and responsible behavior, and to ask when they are unsure about what is and is not permitted. This is especially true for graduate students and TAs.
  3. While the specifics of academic conduct may vary from class to class, all students should know the general types of academic misconduct such as plagiarism. See academic conduct information for new CS&E students and the department Academic Conduct Policy for lists of, and brief comments about, some more common forms of misconduct.
  4. Before making an accusation of cheating, faculty should have solid evidence of misconduct.
  5. Many students claim extenuating circumstances as to why they cheat. It is arguable whether such circumstances should be considered when deciding a cheating penalty. A previous University report strongly recommends that "academic" circumstances (such as a student's class level) can be considered, "non-academic" ones (such as work or family issues) not be. In general, circumstances relating to that academic maturity of the student (such as their class level and previous academic training) can be considered; however, other circumstances, academic or non-academic, should not.
  6. Peer and community pressure and standards are one of the most, if not the most, effective ways to prevent cheating.
  7. U of M and department norms of academic conduct are mentioned in a number of places including:
    • The summer English program for new international TAs. All international students who get a Fall TA offer as part of the admission process are required to attend this.
    • The CS&E grad student orientation (all new graduate students should attend this).
    • The department TA orientation.
    • The TA web page. All CS&E TAs are responsible for this material.

7.4. Summary

Here is a summary of the CS&E department policy on cheating by TAs:

  1. Faculty should report all cases of cheating by computer science or computer engineering grad students to the TA Supervisor and Director of Graduate Studies. The threshold for reporting is whether a penalty (e.g., a failing grade for a class) has been assessed. The faculty member should only report the incident and what action has been taken as a result of it. They do not need to be concerned about any possible "TA-related" penalty --- that will be dealt with at the department level.
  2. Before deciding on any TA-related penalty, the department will usually wait until the regular cheating incident, including any student appeals, has been resolved. Following this, if the cheating accusation is upheld, the department will assign a TA penalty. This will then be communicated in writing to the student involved, as well as to their advisor.
  3. Possible TA penalties include "probation," which will not disqualify a student from getting a future TA offer but will lessen their chances, disqualification of getting a future TA offer, and termination of any current TA position.
  4. The student may appeal the TA-related penalty. The first appeal is to the department, and must done within 10 days of being sent the letter on the TA-related penalty. The decision on the appeal shall be communicated to the student, and their advisor, in writing. The student may appeal the department appeal decision. In its appeal decision letter the department will inform the student about where they may appeal further.

8. Frequently asked questions

8.1. I don't have a TA appointment, but would like one. How do I apply?

If you are a returning student and have not yet done so, submit an application. The forms are available online. Once you submit the form we will consider you for any open TA positions.

If you are a new incoming Ph.D. student, we consider you for a TA offer as part of the application process. If you do not get a TA offer from us as part of your admission, you are welcome to apply for any remaining positions. See Q8 and Q9 in this section for more information.

8.2. When are TA offers usually made?

For fall semester, most offers to new incoming students are made in April, and most offers to returning students are made in April and early May. For spring semester, most offers are made in November and December. Most summer appointments are made in April.

In all cases, we make additional offers after the times stated above, as the need arises (see Q5 of this section).

8.3. What criteria are used to determine who gets a TA offer? How can I find out more about the offer process?

Check the TA offer process and criteria section (section 2).

8.4. What can I do to increase my chances of getting a TA offer?

Here are a number of items:

  • Be familiar with all the criteria listed in the TA offer process and criteria section.
  • Submit your application on time and make sure it is complete, accurate, and up to date. Although applications are accepted at any time, your chances are best if you submit your application prior to the deadline for the initial round of offers. This deadline is announced by e-mail sent to the CS grads mailing list. Remember that applications are not kept from year to year, so you need to reapply in the spring for next fall's positions. (However, applications received for fall semester are kept on file for spring, so you do NOT need to reapply for spring if you have already applied for fall.)
  • If you are a student whose native language is not English, make sure you have passed the University's TA English requirements by passing the TOEFL or SETTA test, or by participating in the University's TA English courses. If you must take the SETTA test, take it as soon as you can since it takes 2-3 weeks for us to get the results. If you have passed the test or the English class with a low score, consider retaking the test or class to earn a higher score.
  • Include a good number of preferences in your application. Also list a variety of classes in terms of level and area. Some students put too few preferences, which limits their chances. Occasionally students put too many, listing classes they did poorly in or classes they are really not interested in TAing.
  • Do well in the courses you take, and make suitable degree progress.
  • If you are a current TA, do an excellent (not just OK) job in your current assignment.
  • Work on your teaching background and potential. For example, attend workshops sponsored by the department or Center for Educational Innovation. Or take a class on teaching. Teaching improvement classes and workshops can be reported in the "other information" space at the end of the TA application form.

8.5. If I didn't get a TA offer in the initial rounds of offers, do I still have a chance of getting one?

We do make a number of offers after the initial rounds since some TAs will decline offers or resign. We should know about these openings a month or more before the beginning of classes, and will fill them as they occur. We also make additional appointments based on higher than expected enrollment. These appointments are usually made around the beginning of classes. The number of appointments that open up after the initial rounds varies from semester to semester, but is usually about a half dozen.

8.6. I have a TA appointment, but want to resign. What do I have to do?

First, unless there is an emergency, you should not resign after classes begin. If you wish to resign before classes begin, resign sufficiently before the start of classes (six weeks) that we have ample time to find and appoint a replacement. The department has had problems in the past with TAs resigning just prior to the beginning of classes. Because of the disruption this caused, the department now has the following policy:

  1. Teaching assistants may resign their TA appointment for an RA appointment if they resign prior to the announced application deadline, which is usually 4 - 6 weeks before the start of classes of each semester.
  2. TAs who wish to resign their TA appointment after the above deadline will need written permission from the Department Head or TA Supervisor.
  3. The department will not process RA offers to TAs that resign without meeting these criteria. TAs who resign less than two weeks before the beginning of classes will forfeit their eligibility to receive any form of support from the department in the future.

If you are resigning because you are graduating or have a job offer elsewhere, we still ask that you let us know as far in advance of the beginning of the semester as possible. Finding new TAs for certain classes is very time consuming, and so the more notice we have the better.

Resignations may either be in signed hardcopy, or by email from your U of M account. Copies should be sent both to the Graduate TA Supervisor and to the department payroll staff. Students on a yearly TA appointment must include whether they are just resigning for the next semester, or for the entire year.

8.7. How do I update my TA application?

E-mail and department staff will make the requested updates.

8.8. I'm a newly admitted student. What do I have to do to apply for a teaching assistantship?

All new students are considered for teaching assistantships automatically as part of the admissions process --- you do not need to submit any further information beyond what you submitted when you applied for admission.

If we select you for a teaching assistantship, we will notify you sometime in the spring. If we do not select you, you are welcome to apply for any positions still open by submitting an application when you arrive here. (Note: if you are an international student and have not fulfilled the University's TA English requirements, you must register for one of the tests to fulfill that requirement before submitting your application.)

8.9. I'm a newly admitted student who did not receive a TA offer yet. How can I find out about my chances of getting an offer?

Our original offers to new incoming students go out in April. If you do not get an offer then, then you may apply for any open positions when you arrive here. Usually about a half dozen TA positions open up in August or early September. However, since a large number of students are interested in those positions, the chance of getting a position is not great.

If you come here and apply for a TA position, but do not receive one for fall, you will be automatically considered for spring positions when we make the spring TA offers in November. Usually about a dozen new offers are made then.

8.10. I am looking for a TA position, and would like to meet the graduate TA supervisor to discuss this. When can I do that?

If you have questions beyond the information given here, you are welcome to contact the Graduate TA Supervisor.

8.11. When will I know if I will get an offer or not?

Because we make offers up to and sometimes after the start of classes, there is no set date for when final decisions are made on any individual's application. Rather, applicants stay in the application pool until they get an offer, or until all positions are filled around the start of classes. See questions Q2 and Q5 above, as well as the TA offer process and criteria section of this handbook (section 2) for more information.

Contact information

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Graduate TA Supervisor

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CS&E Front Desk