Biology Graduate Program Student Handbook 4. Graduate Teaching Assistantships

The department will make every effort to couple admission to the M.S. program with the awarding of a Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA). These teaching assignments (TA) are highly competitive and students desiring a GTA must apply every year in order to be considered.  Students that are making satisfactory progress towards one’s degree (e.g., timely organization of thesis committee, proposal defense, departmental service, etc.), in good standing, and performing well in teaching and departmental duties will be most likely to be awarded a GTA for a second year. A third year may be awarded on a semester-by-semester basis, following procedures outlined elsewhere.


As a GTA, you will be leading laboratory sections in one of our introductory courses (typically General Biology I, II and Principles of Biology, but sometimes other classes). This is a great chance for you to begin learning how to present information, administer quizzes, and manage students and a host of other issues which will undoubtedly help you in your future careers. Prior to the start of the semester there will be a graduate student orientation in which more details will be presented. In addition, the Lead Professor for the course will observe all GTAs at least once per semester and evaluate them via the departmental rubric (available on-line for your perusal). The Professor will give you advanced warning prior to the event. While this will undoubtedly cause some level of consternation and trepidation, fear not about such endeavors. While no one ever likes to be actively observed (hence the blinds that National Geographic personnel employ), this is one of the best tools available to understand those things that we are doing well, and try to improve on the rest. To paraphrase Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living.


Further, all GTAs will also distribute in-class evaluations for the students to fill out. GTAs should arrange for one of their peers to assist in this endeavor, as the class instructor should not be in the room during the actual administration.


At the end of the semester, the Graduate Coordinator (GC) will meet with all GTAs in order to evaluate their progress. The GC will have access to the end of semester and in-class evaluations, but this merely provides information on the teaching component. Thus, all GTAs will also be asked to bring a copy of their CVs (to be addressed at the orientations) and activities that semester. These activities include, but are not limited to, publications, meetings (both attended and presented), grants (successful or not), research productivity (mayhap augmented by a letter from their major professor), awards, etc. This body of information will be compiled for a brief semester evaluation, with a more in-depth report on a yearly basis.

4.1 GTA Commitments

Per everyone’s contract, GTAs are committed to 15 hours of departmental service per week, in exchange for the vast fortunes heaped upon them. The weekly commitment is generally broken down as the following:


Task (per week)

Time (hours per week)

1st  Laboratory time


2nd Laboratory time


Pre-/Post-Lab grading, preparations,etc.


 Office Hours




Prep work





* This is an estimate. Most weeks there will be no proctoring duties, while others may have 1-4 tests, so please sign up early for times and plan accordingly.


Class meetings and laboratory prep meetings are mandatory for all GTAs. On rare occasions, however, a student may have a conflict due to a conference, medical emergency, or extreme situation involving their research. Under these situations a GTA can potentially get an "excused absence" from class or laboratory prep. If faced with an emergency situation, the student should contact both lab coordinator and grad. coordinator as far in advance as possible. It is up to the lab coordinator and the graduate program director to determine if the conflict can be considered an excused absence. If a student is potentially missing a meeting of the laboratory class they have been assigned they are responsible for finding another GTA that is willing to cover their class on the proposed date. Missing any mandatory meetings that have not been excused can be grounds for losing a GTA.

4.2 GTA Office Hours

GTAs are expected to conduct regular office hours during the semester. Typically, this entails one hour per lab, and thus two hours per week are typical. Your locations during these times should be clearly stated on your laboratory syllabus.

4.3 GTA Prep Work

To run the labs in the department takes a tremendous amount of coordination and effort on everyone’s part. Thus, a crucial component of GTA responsibilities comes in the form of prep work for the upcoming week’s labs. All GTAs will be responsible for 3 - 4 hours of work, as designated by the respective lab coordinator. Please note that this is a rather flexible commitment, as some weeks may take significantly less (e.g., during lab exams) or slightly more (e.g., enzyme labs). However, if you have something which precludes your attention that week (perhaps a big test, proposal defense, field sampling, etc.), please let the lab coordinator know so that an alternative commitment can be easily arranged.

4.4 GTA Proctoring

Many of the courses necessitating GTAs are rather large. Thus, all GTAs are responsible for helping to proctor exams (handing out tests, watching for any potential cheating, collecting and alphabetizing tests, etc.). The lab manager will collect the times and dates of large lecture classes, and post a list in the office. All GTAs are responsible for assisting with four tests per semester.


4.5 GTA Progress towards Degree

All GTAs will meet with the graduate coordinator at the end of the semester to discuss academic standing and progress toward degree; examinations of course work (completed and remaining), thesis development and any general issues regarding progress toward degree.

4.6 GTA Support

A full-time (9 credit hours per semester) graduate student who is making satisfactory progress and maintaining acceptable student evaluations will be guaranteed support for four consecutive (fall and spring) semesters. Maximum support as a Graduate Teachings Assistant (GTA) is for six consecutive (fall and spring) semesters.


5th and 6th semester support requires:


1.      Letter of justification by student seeking continued support.

2.      Progress and recommendation from student’s graduate committee.

4.7 GTA Semester End Assessments and Evaluations for Continued Funding

At the semester’s end, every student awarded a GTA will have a meeting with the graduate coordinator to ensure excellence in graduate student scholarship, teaching and service and provide a mechanism for determining suitable progress for continued GTA support. This meeting will draw upon the following forms to clearly delineate GTA progress. The forms follow:

GTA Progress Evaluation

This form will be completed by the graduate coordinator. It will draw upon the previous two documents, but also include a section on departmental citizenship, progress towards degree and academic performance. The following queries will be addressed:

  • Is the student making satisfactory progress towards the completion of their degree, as outlined in the graduate student handbook?
  • Is the student making satisfactory progress scholastically?
  • Is the student an active, participating departmental member? This question relates to the following activities: 
    • Appearance at departmental functions (e.g., Thursday seminars)
    • Availability for scheduled visiting scholars (e.g., lunches with invited speakers, job candidates, etc.)
    • Assistance in departmental activities (e.g., helping faculty members with meetings, biology club, general participation in departmental functions
    • Proctoring tests
    • Prompt responses to departmental requests/concerns

This file will be integral in deciding whether a graduate students is fulfilling their contract and whether GTA funding is appropriate after the typical 2 years. Further it will provide a mechanism for ensuring student compliance with rules and regulations requisite for continued funding. The graduate coordinator will construct a comprehensive document compiling all observations and assessments relating to these issues; this and all documents will be organized into a file and forwarded to the student, their mentor and the departmental chair. A typical file will have the following components: 

  • Summary of teaching letter
  • Summary of service letter
  • Scholastic, progress toward degree and citizenship aspect
  • Recommendation to continue funding or not

GTA Service Evaluation

This form will be completed by the laboratory coordinator to which the GTA has been assigned (e.g. GBIO I, A&P I, Principles of Biology, etc.); the following queries will be addressed:

  • Did the GTA make all scheduled lab prep meetings?
  • Did the GTA carry out all prep duties?
  • Was the GTA available for office hours?
  • Did the GTA clean up after their labs?
  • Did the GTA fulfill all teaching responsibilities?
  • Any additional comments or observations?

GTA Teaching Evaluation

This will be a previously generated form that the lecture professor will utilize when they observe the graduate students at least once per semester. In addition, remarks pertaining to the promptness of grade submission will be included as comments.