I am a second year PhD research student within the Sociology department at York, as well as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). I have taught across two undergraduate modules since the first year of my PhD. So, what is involved when teaching alongside your postgraduate studies, and what may be useful to know?
The aim of this blog is to outline the different roles a GTA can have and explain about my personal experience in my GTA roles. I will outline advice for time management when teaching alongside your postgraduate studying. I will also list some points for you to consider if you are considering applying to be a GTA.
What is a GTA?
A Graduate Teaching Assistant, or GTA, covers work carried out by PhD students, most commonly with undergraduate students. This can include ‘demonstrating’, which is usually supporting a workshop, fieldwork, or teaching in a laboratory. It can also include ‘teaching’, which is likely to be within a seminar setting, and can include adapting module material. There is also seminar facilitation and modification of the teaching and learning materials, which can include the opportunity to develop your own material. These roles can overlap, depending on the usual role of GTAs within your department.
What has my role been, and what work is involved?
I first began my role as a GTA online due to the pandemic, but I have since taught on campus. To prepare for leading the seminar groups each week, I am required to look over the reading material given to the students. I ensure that I have planned any activities. This includes group or pair work, according to the seminar activity guidance given to GTAs for each week. I like to ensure that I have extra teaching material, such as videos or suggested further reading. This is in case students are struggling to grasp key concepts, or would like further resources around the topic. With lecture capture, there is also an opportunity to watch the lectures given to the students, although this is not compulsory.
Each seminar will be different depending on the time of term, if students are being introduced to a topic, or working towards assessment deadlines. But the role of the GTA generally is to facilitate student debate and discussion and remind students of the central themes of the module. It is also to provide support around essay questions. There is also an element of attendance keeping and ensuring that departments and student support staff are aware if students seem to be struggling. Once assessments are handed in, marking responsibilities are divided between GTAs on your module, to be given a mark and qualitative feedback. Throughout your time as a GTA, you will be supported by the module leader. You will also be able to contact your line manager, who is usually the GTA coordinator within your department.
How does teaching balance alongside studying for a PhD?
I have found that teaching is very manageable alongside studying for a PhD. By planning ahead and drawing on your own knowledge as an experienced student, teaching becomes a fantastic addition to working on your PhD. Below I will list some tips and key points to consider if you are considering teaching alongside your postgraduate studies:
Tips for time management
- Plan ahead! Ensure that you know when important meetings are coming up, and organise time spent preparing for seminars accordingly. The academic year always seems to move quickly!
- Where possible, decide on certain days to prepare for your seminars, so you don’t rush the preparation.
- Try not to over prepare every week. Once you have settled into your role and know what is expected of you, make sure that you don’t over prepare work or activities that you won’t have time to go over in the seminar. (However, a short backup activity can help you feel more confident going in to teach the seminar).
Things to consider if you are thinking of being a GTA
- Applying to be a GTA
- Keep a look out for centrally advertised roles. GTA roles are advertised on the postgraduate researcher webpages. However, it is worth checking throughout the year if there are other roles outside of your department too.
- Enquire with your departmental GTA coordinator about when positions are advertised.
- Think outside the box regarding the transferable skills you might have if you’re applying to teach for the first time.
- Look into completing the relevant Teaching and Learning course, run by the University, which is a prerequisite of teaching as GTA.
- Whilst you are a GTA
- If you feel apprehensive about teaching, remember that you have the advantage of hindsight. This is since you’ve already completed your undergraduate degree, but also that you can learn from your students. They often bring new ways of thinking and contemporary examples to draw upon when unpacking core concepts.
- Keep your supervisors are up-to-date with your work as a GTA.
- Be mindful about the support you are able to offer to students consistently across the year.
- Remember that you are part of a team. Speak to other GTAs teaching on your module, and join the University-wide GTA Network. It’s a great way to learn from more experienced peers and staff members.
Hopefully this has helped answer some of your questions regarding being a GTA and helped to show how the two roles of PhD researcher and teaching alongside your postgraduate studies can be beneficial for each other. The University offers additional training courses, such as the York Learning and Teaching Award (YLTA), which can help build your experience and support a future teaching career within academia.
Read more postgraduate research blogs.