Aside from acquiring vast amounts of knowledge and shaping yourself to become an academic in the future, the most rewarding part about graduate school is being a TA. Why? Well, you get paid to grade. That’s the short answer. The long answer is you get to put up with annoying undergraduates who (foolishly) don’t really respect you, and for measly pay! But ungrateful undergrads and crappy pay aside, being a TA really is rewarding. If you are planning on becoming an academic, it prepares you to deal with a generation of students who believe they’re entitled to an A just because they stop by your office hours. In this way, it prepares you to deal with those you will soon (or maybe not so soon, depending where you are in your program) be teaching. For some weird reason, students don’t really think their TAs are all that important, at least I didn’t when I was an undergrad, but now that I actually am a TA I wish I had known what I know now and I wish someone had told me how to interact with my TAs, it just might have led to many more As throughout my time as an undergrad. The following is a short list of how a TA can make your life much easier and your prospects of an A in that class you hate closer to reality.
1. Your TAs are people too. Just because we are probably much smarter than you and know more about the topic of the class does not mean we are weird, soul-less robots whose only focus in life is failing you and reading books. It was not that long ago that we ourselves were in your shoes. We enjoy going out, we enjoy getting drunk. The only difference is that our parties consist of getting drunk and debating whether the Battle of Stalingrad really was the turning point of World War II instead of your typical undergrad party consisting of getting drunk and either groping someone or vomiting on someone (although that happens less frequently at our parties).
2. Because we too are humans, you really should not be afraid to talk to us. In fact, the students who do talk to me tend to get better grades on their exams. This could be because smart kids know that their TAs are a valuable resource or perhaps it could be, as I believe, that the kids that take the time to get to at least know your name are the ones who stick out in your TA’s head when they’re grading and so giving an F is a little more difficult to do. So hey, strike up a conversation with your TA. About anything. If you see us walking around campus, smile at us and wave at us. Trust me, it will probably make our day.
3. Point three relates to part two in that it deals with the contact you have with your TA. While we do want to hear from and talk to you, sending us an email every half hour asking what material will be on the next exam or what your grade is is incredibly annoying. Trust me, if your TA only knows who you are because you are continually demanding answers from us via email, then you don’t fully have a grasp of point two and your TA will likely be annoyed to the point that giving you an F in the class might mean you drop it sooner and they no longer have to deal with you. Instead, opt to meet face to face with your TA. Face to face contact is much more convenient, surprisingly. You can ask us tons of questions during our office hours. It keeps us from getting lonely.
4. Come to our office hours! Need answers about how to write an essay for the exam? Come to our office hours! Need to know your grade? Come to our office hours! Want to get hints about what will be on the next exam? Come to our office hours! Just come to our office hours, really, it is much easier than emailing and it shows that you actually care. I often take into consideration when I grade who came to visit me and took an interest in their grade in the course and who did not. Chances are that if you even attempt to look like you care about your grade in the course by visiting your TA, then they might be more inclined to give you a good grade. “Oh, Johnny got a B+ but you know what? He’s been in here three times asking how to improve his grade….how about an A- instead?” Visiting your TA shows you care, and that might lead to a boost in your GPA.
5. Never forget that while the professor has the final say in your grade, they will usually side with the TA if a student ever raises a question about their grades. See, we, as graduate students studying more in depth the field that pertains to your class, naturally know more about the subject and have gone through the process already. We have a Bachelor’s degree by this point and were in your shoes not too long ago. Thus, as far as the professor is concerned, we know what we are doing when we grade. So, remember that it is us who control your grades and thus, your futures. Don’t be a douche to us, or in general. We will notice and we may not be as lenient when we grade because all we can think of when we see your name on that exam is how much of a douche you are. Now, I’m not saying to be a kiss-ass, but going out of your way to say or do something nice for your TA can never really hurt.
Overall, your TAs really are there to help you. Most of us are willing to do so. Show you care and we will help you. Be nice to us and your grade might reflect that. I’m not saying to bribe us or kiss our asses or attempt to manipulate us for a good grade, but you really should understand that success in your class lies heavily in your TA’s hands. And if you’re cool with your TA, your TA will be cool with you. And hey, who knows, maybe that shitty class that you normally would have gotten a C in might not be so bad after all, you might even end up with a B.