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7 reasons why TA-ing is good for you

Worried that TA-ing will set you back in classes and/or research? Disappointed about not getting that department fellowship? 

Don't worry, be happy! 

TA-ing will make you a BETTER, not worse, graduate student. You will be MORE successful, not less. 

Here are 7 reasons why: 

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

1. You will finally learn the material from undergrad

4 years of college is never enough to learn all the material they try to teach you in college. 

You need to revisit a topic and think about it in different ways. 

It can be hard to think about one topic in several different ways, though. 

That's what you have students for! 

As a TA, you might be teaching a couple of recitations (problem-solving or discussion classes) and a couple of labs (practical work classes.)

When I was TA-ing I had at least 50 students per semester. 

50 unique minds. 50 unique ways of thinking about the same topic.

Teaching them and helping them overcome difficulties in understanding different concepts made me solidify my own understanding of the topics and reach that next level of expertise. 

The first couple semesters I taught, I did every lab and every homework problem that the students would have to do. 

I reached a higher level of fluency in the first year physics courses which forms the foundation for all the material that comes next. 

2. You will be a superior communicator 

Giving talks is an essential part of grad school, and TA-ing forces you to get better at it. 

When I was TA-ing I found myself constantly trying to make sure I communicate my ideas in a way that is understandable by everyone.

I took note of what worked and what did not work.

In my first semester of teaching, I would over-explain things.

Needing to make sure that they understood my explanations, I would sometimes overdo it, and lose them.

Saying too much can be confusing to the students, saying too little is unhelpful.

Reaching that happy medium was not easy, but I got better each semester.

Addressing an audience and giving talks became much more second-nature and I felt much more confident about speaking in front of a crowd. 

3. You will have teaching experience on your CV/resume

Whether you are looking to stay in academia or get a job in industry or start your own business, having teaching experience is invaluable.

Most academic jobs require teaching so having a solid teaching experience should help you. 

Even in industry, pedagogy is important. If you are good at something, you should be able to teach your colleagues and help them get better at it. 

TA-ing also means you have "client-facing" experience, which is highly marketable. 

Your teaching experience can definitely go on your CV or resume, irrespective of the job you are applying for. 

4. You will have better interpersonal skills

As a Ph.D., you will be known as someone that knows what they are doing. You will be an expert in your field.

What can hold a lot of PhDs back, though, is the lack of interpersonal skills. 

Graduate school can be isolating and interactions with non-experts rare.

TA-ing is your opportunity to stay in touch with the world beyond your research group.

Interacting with your students will make you practice leading and holding conversations.

This will serve you well wherever you go next.

5. You can virtuously procrastinate 

Do you think your colleagues that don't have to TA are getting more research done than you are? 

Do you think they are getting super ahead and you are falling super behind?

Relax, no such thing is happening. 

Everyone in graduate school procrastinates. 

Research is hard. 

There are problems you can do easily, and there are problems that seem impossible to even get started on.

Such is life and seriously, EVERYONE procrastinates.

Except, YOU can do so while building your CV!

Stuck on a research problem?

You can VIRTUOUSLY procrastinate by going off to teach! 

While your non-TA colleagues are probably on Facebook, playing video games or watching Netflix, none of which can be used to build their CV, you are changing the world and boosting your CV by teaching.

6. Your schedule is more structured 

TA-ing forces your schedule to have structure, which I think is necessary to achieve success.

You have to manage your time like you'd have to in the real world. 

You can't milk projects forever as you have limited time, to begin with. 

You can't be stuck on one problem all day as you have to go teach in a couple of hours.

TA-ing will drive you to get things done. 

TA-ing will drive you to finish your projects in a timely manner, which is essential to graduating in a reasonable amount of time.

7. TA-ing boosts your confidence

Research, by nature, is full of failures. 

It can be very demoralizing. 

If all you are doing is research all day, you could get pretty depressed. 

And, I don't say that lightly. 

Graduate students do get depressed.

When you are TA-ing, and especially when you are a senior TA and have gotten the hang of it, TA-ing can be the one thing that makes you feel like you are good at something.

When you feel like you really don't know anything, and the whole day is a struggle, your TA duties are a welcome change and make you feel better. 

TA-ing can be the bit of work where you actually succeed!

washington dc united states botanic garden picture by oindree banerjee, used in blog how to phd, reasons why TA-ing is good for you

Feeling better is important, and being mentally healthy is necessary to your success as a researcher. 

Being a TA makes you a well-balanced, superior researcher, so embrace those TA duties, and keep changing the world!

Share your TA experiences in the comments!


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