Monday, April 4, 2011

53. Teaching assistantships.

There is something inherently humiliating about being a teaching assistant. This is true despite the fact that graduate students desperately want and need teaching assistantships for funding (see Reason 17), that they compete with each other for TAships (see Reason 2), and that TAships are often the only way for graduate students to acquire teaching experience. And it is true despite the fact that TAs generally have a much closer connection to their students (and their students’ performance) than professors do. In the end, a traditional TA is exactly what the job title describes: a “teacher’s helper.”

Your junior status in the classroom is painfully apparent to both you and your students. It is made all the more obvious when students come to visit you during your “office” hours (see Reason 42). It is hard for students not to harbor doubts about the quality of what they are being taught by someone so low in the academic hierarchy, and it is hard for you to remain there for so long. Teaching assistantships pay the bills (or at least some of them), but the reason that you often find yourself still working as a TA in your 30s is because of your work as a TA. What began as an apprenticeship has become a job of drudgery upon which the university depends (see Reasons 7 and 41). Being a TA requires an extraordinary amount of time—time that you cannot devote to doing what you need to do to graduate—so the indignity tends to last for years. The jobs that make it possible to be in graduate school make it difficult to escape from graduate school.



38 comments:

  1. Oh, this is stated so beautifully, my beloved blogger. Thank you! Also worth noting is that a TA's job is to act as a buffer between the students and the profs. Our (TAs') presence allows profs to keep their spirits up and maintain the delusion that students are learning something, that students care about their education more than just getting laid or getting baked or marking time until Uncle Louie's job offer crystalizes.

    From my experience, the people who appear happiest in academia are the folks who can lie to themselves about the importance of what we are doing. TAs facilitate this process. Like sponges, we absorb much of the anxiety and bad attitude the undergrads exude. We leave the profs free to pontificate, and more importantly, with enough time to advance their own careers, while we TAs grade 700 papers in one 10 week quarter (yes, I have done this) and then wrangle over the resulting grades with our little illiterate darlings.

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  2. I once had a (visiting assistant) professor throw an enormous hissy fit in a 200-person intro lecture class because one or two students had DARED to email him instead of funneling everything through their TAs. (NB At the end of the semester, he was whining that no students ever came to his office hours - because yeah, you were so open and welcoming) He also liked to spend class time asking the TAs surprise questions semi-related to the class, but on a much more advanced level, which he claimed was preparation for their comprehensive exams.

    The TAs, by the way, were all really nice, which just makes it worse.

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  3. Although I really enjoyed being a TA (and the students were mostly pretty good too), this post does hit upon one dirty secret about grad student TAs: that being a TA does literally almost nothing for your career. For academic positions, being a TA is almost assumed, and of no big importance, so prospective committees/supervisors aren't all that interested unless you are a royal screw-up. For non-academic positions, you might as well put that you were a paper delivery boy on your resume, since employers will care about either about equally. Arguably, the only possible place this could be helpful is applying for teaching positions in elementary/secondary schools, but even more helpful would be a B.Ed with practicum experience, not being a grad TA.

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  4. I thought there was something wrong with me when I was a T.A. because I spent SO MUCH TIME preparing lessons and grading. At my university you actually taught the courses, too, including preparing lessons, teaching the course, designing exams and grading everything. I honestly thought if I was a better T.A. I'd be fasted. Now reading your blog I realise my suspicion that I was a dupe was right! Still, I often really enjoyed it and wouldn't trade it for anything.

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  5. One prof I worked with assigned weekly reading logs--actually letter/numerically graded, not check, check plus BS. Students were supposed to write about every one of the week's readings. Of course they couldn't/wouldn't do it under the page limit (2), so they'd go on and on, sometimes up to 5 pages. 70 students, every week. No back-up from prof when I tried to enforce page limits to keep the labor down. In fact, without consulting me, the prof emphasized to the class that students could write as much as they wanted for the final (12-15+ pages) and assigned TWO reading logs for that final week in addition. So despite having my own seminar papers to write, I had to grade 3 papers per student: in excess of 210 papers in the last two weeks of the term. That's the real story of TAing: bending over. Oh, and the prof always talked to the students about "our" grading, as if s/he actually lifted a finger.

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  6. "There is something inherently humiliating about being a teaching assistant."

    lololololz

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  7. The thing is though, all the indignities aside, being a TA is actually a pretty good deal. $15-23,000 a year, plus health insurance for working fifteen hours a week? Yes, please. I was pretty down on TAships too until I wasn't funded for a year. I realize the scope of the compensation and time commitment ranges depending on where you are and with whom you are working, but regardless, TAs are much better off than the grad students stuck teaching as adjuncts.

    This is also another nifty indicator of the hierarchies that exist within departments that most grad students are so shocked to discover. The people with the TAships are the lucky ones!

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  8. it's true that instructors/adjuncts often get shafted worse than TAs, but that doesn't mean we TAs are exactly cleaning up. my advisor told me that as summer school instructor s/he will make only HALF what i will as TA! but let's not get too excited about how fortunate we are to TA. i'm contracted for 20 hours a week and work 30-35+, plus commuting another 8-15 hours a week. in my experience, only folks who've never worked a real job outside of academia think this is a swell deal. keep in mind that some TAs' remuneration doesn't even cover full fee remission.

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    1. Not sure how you figure it's the ones who've never worked outside academia that find TAships to be a swell deal. I think the real problem is grad students tend to be from socioeconomic backgrounds that foster a sense of entitlement (not unlike the one we accuse our undergrads of displaying), in which walking into a job that pays $20/hr for sitting at a desk comes with health insurance and a bounty of underlings who think you're smart is something any old BA can expect. If I thought little old me could land this kind of deal anywhere other than grad school, I'd be there. Lucky for me, I read the paper and I've heard a couple things about the American health insurance crisis...

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    2. As an undergrad I work 25 to 30 hours a week washing dishes and get no health insurance. I make $7.45 and hour. And I am studying Chemical Engineering. I am a Junior now. I don't know, but that TA job doesn't look so bad from where I'm standing.

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  9. Not to mention...ever heard of WISCONSIN?

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  10. I had a foreign language TA in my apartment building. He was going for his MA in a foreign language. The powers-that-be required him to teach two foreign language sections each semester. He hated it. Why? First, they limited the number of classes he could take, two graduate level courses. Second, these sections were like a full-time job to him. It took him 6 years to graduate. Fortunately, he was required to spend one year in France where he made "progress."

    * * *

    I went to a large state university. All of my undergrad lab classes had TAs. Most of my Fresh to Soph classes had MA to PhD TAs. The large lecture hall classes had PhDs, but the TAs handled the grunt work.


    theyuppieattorney.blogspot.com

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  11. Y'all never learnt the secret rapid-fire grading technique passed down from century to century?

    Skim opening paragraph, skim one paragraph from middle, skim end paragraph, BOOM, give grade, next!

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  12. @anonymous 3:35

    That also depends on the professor you are working for. s/he wanted all the papers to have comments throughout, along with corrections, so that when students came with papers it was easy to point out to them why they got a certain grade. Also, the professor would periodically spot check my work to guarantee that my grading was correct and consistent.

    Also, funding depends on the program and department. My assistantship was below $12,000 and didn't include any form of health care for the 20 hour (and often more) work week.

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  13. Here's another reason that TAing blows: working with other TAs from your department is awful. Okay, now I'm sure that a slew of folks will post comments to note how lovely and cooperative the other grad students in their respective departments are. Not in mine, folks. If you TA in the Department of Stinkpots at UWY (the University of Wasted Years) a sizable number of your "colleagues" will:

    1. Refuse to attend the prof's lectures

    2. Refuse to attend the horrible, mandatory TA meetings

    3. If they do attend said meetings, any pedagogical "suggestions" they make will be heavily loaded and will be foisted on you in a presumptuous, annoying, and/or insulting way

    4. The people with serious illnesses and caregiving responsibilities will show up in a timely manner, but everyone else will show up to class or meetings late and/or leave early. You will go to great lengths to change your conflicting appointment so you can attend the "mandatory meeting," only to find out that half of the others didn't bother to come.

    5. If they bother to show up, they will bitterly complain about having shown up. As if you're dying to be there.

    6. If there are tasks such as passing out papers, they will hold back so that you have to do everything, then:

    7. Give you attitude, as if you are trying to be SuperTA, even though you are only doing the share of their own work that they foisted on you

    8. Refuse to do the reading for the course

    9. Plan only "fun activities" for discussion section so that you look like a jerk for holding students accountable for the texts and trying to actually teach something

    10. Give everybody As so that you look like a wienie for trying to grade reasonably OR, alternatively:

    11. Decide to decimate everyone (e.g. scores of 2/25 on fully complete essays), so that students' grades will never recover and there will be additional meetings to decide what kind of extra credit assignments to give the students to make up for it. Thanks for the extra grading, jerks.

    12. Oh yes, mustn't forget that those who show up for the prof's lectures may choose between one of two options: a) talking to you during the entire lecture, so that you also look disrespectful or b) simply sitting outside and doing their own work, then popping back in at the end so everyone can see that they were "there the whole time."

    13. Ditto on proctoring exams: won't show up, if they do it's late and complaining, then straight to the back or front of the lecture hall, where everyone but you will cluster up and gossip while you're zipping up and down the aisles, collecting complaints from students who can't concentrate because the TAs are blabbing.

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  14. Anonymous 9:56 = goody two-shoes

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  15. hahaha. i see you attend UWY also! i guess i won't see you next week in the mandatory TA meeting. do please keep your chattering down during thursday's exam however, i'm sick of fielding the students' complaints about not being able to concentrate.

    if actually doing my job instead of creating extra work for others and making everyone else miserable by acting like a spoiled brat means i'm goody two-shoes, fine. but just wait until all my "colleagues" flounder on the academic job market and try to take their crappy work habits and unearned prima donna attitudes into the corporate world. good luck...

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  16. Solution: get rid of the humanities.

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  17. Okay. I keep fucking this up. Let me try again.

    I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with humiliation. People are humiliated on the job every day in this country, especially at the entry/apprentice level. What is it about being a graduate instructor that would make us feel excepted from this?

    If you let ANYBODY "throw a hissy fit" at you, on or off the job, and you let them get away with it. . . that's on you. An instructor in my wife's graduate course lost her temper and raised her voice at a group of students the week before last. They got her fired.

    Most of what y'all have written here I agree with, even though it seems a little self-serving. I found graduate school humiliating (always liked the teaching part), maybe because I was pushing 50 when I went through it. But, having experienced the academic and corporate worlds, my conclusion is that you can't really talk about unearned prima donna status in one without also acknowledging it in the other. I'm happy that I got through my program and I love what I do. My sense of the profession is that most people in it feel the same.

    There are lots of good reasons for not continuing in an academic career, especially in this market. I don't think this thread has hit on any of them, though.

    With respect,
    Michael Harrawood

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  18. For the most part, I have enjoyed my teaching assistantships. I enjoy teaching, and I hope that all this experience will help me get a job when the time comes. But yes, at times, there is definitely something humiliating about being a TA. Especially when you have to follow the whims of the course instructor, and have no control over the course material. Sometimes, you are stuck grading stacks of poorly-written tests and assignments. The alternative, teaching your own class, allows more freedom, but it can be a full-time job cloaked as a TAship. I teach five days a week, independently, without any instructor guiding me. I create all my own lesson plans, I grade daily homework, I write and grade weekly tests, and I meet with students in office hours. Yet, my official title is still Teaching Assistant. I am not assisting anyone, I really am the instructor. It's supposed to be a 20-hour a week job, but it is not. Since I have to teach every day, my own research and dissertation writing constantly gets pushed aside, which means that I spend yet another year as a teaching assistant.

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  19. Fantastic for Michael's wife and her pals. I really do mean that. But not everybody is empowered to do the same, and it's not "on them" if, due to a variety of reasons, they can't fight every injustice. My friend went to the union after suffering labor abuses as a TA. The result: prof is seen as unjustly accused, but my friend's reputation appears to be ruined. It looks like s/he's blackballed on the job market. This is why some have described academia as an institutionalized form of hazing: often (though not always) grad students have to put up with a host of indignities and even outright abuse in order to get our degrees. The outcome of "standing up for ourselves" is never certain--and in many cases, can easily boomerang back to hurt us. This can be true within grad cohorts as well. A woman in my program has been sexually harassed by a man in her cohort. He has not been dismissed, but appears actually to have derived benefits, while she has been treated poorly.

    Blaming victims who don't magically have all the strength and resources we imagine we would have in a similar situation puts us in league with abusers. I don't want that kind of company.

    P.S.
    Note that the poster's wife got "an instructor" fired--not a tenured prof, not the chair of the department.

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  20. Dude! This thing keeps erasing my posts

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  21. I'm not doing so well posting. Here: let's see if this goes.

    Anonymous: do you mean me? The poster's wife? I signed my post. Do you mean me?

    If so, how do you imagine this particular group of graduates to be any more "empowered" than you or your colleagues? You say "magically have the strength," but from where do you imagine this strength comes? You suggest that by resisting an abusive instructor (it was a professor, btw: not that that makes any difference), these students are somehow on the side of the abuser. Or maybe you mean me. You don't want to keep company with abusive people, but you also don't scruple to make a personal reflection about me or my character. Is that about right?

    I take your point: it is extreme to suggest that taking abuse is "on you." My choice of words suggests a level of ego-militancy I didn't mean. But the fact is that people don't resist power abuses by magic. I think you know how this idea will finish out. I don't believe you mean to say that the people who are brave enough to resist it are somehow abusive.

    I think the shift of topic to empowerment and the suggestion of being on the side of the abuser allows you to avoid the thing I am saying. First, that all work and every work place has the very same abuses and power negotiations; all power creates the need for endurance, submission and resistance, and, second, that none of the episodes you relate here founds a unified or cogent principle for rejecting the profession. Like I wrote above, there are plenty of good reasons for not going forward with this career.

    With respect,
    Michael Harrawood

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  22. I worked as TA in both MA and PhD programs, teaching undergrads both times. Kind of enjoyed it actually, but if the supervising professor is a jerk or an idiot it can be trying. In my very first class as a TA, the professor evaluated me as "well, I didn't get any complaints about him so I guess he was OK." This was in 1980 but this guy is now a well known 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Really, some places will let anyone in a classroom!

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  23. Thinking about my undergrad days (some 10 years ago), I have not had any classes taught by TAs and only a couple classes discussion sessions led by TAs (and those were fluff courses like sociology, never sciences, where every lab session had a real professor monitoring it, even if from a different area of expertise). I went to a mid-size regional campus of a flagship state university.

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  24. In my department at one of the bigger colleges in America, TAs design and teach their own courses. We're observed for one day, and our evaluations are read by the people in charge of the program, but we're on our own beyond that. We're essentially treated like the professors, and I don't find that terribly humiliating.

    We get paid to work 20 hours a week, and it rarely takes me half that time to prepare for class, unless it's an exceptional week and I have a lot of grading. Which would be my fault, since I invented the assignments and drew up the schedule.

    It does have obvious advantages for the job market too. If you're applying for an academic position, you're expected to have had a number of years of teaching experience. Being a TA gets you that experience.

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  25. "If you let ANYBODY "throw a hissy fit" at you, on or off the job, and you let them get away with it. . . that's on you. An instructor in my wife's graduate course lost her temper and raised her voice at a group of students the week before last. They got her fired. "

    LOL. Have you ever heard of tenure? How about "bad TA review from instructor of record"?

    Sometimes it's not pragmatic or even feasible to resist the professor that's supervising you, especially if they are a tenured professor who has the power and temperament to make your life miserable for the rest of the time in your department. It is almost never as simple as complaining to someone. There are tons of professors who are terrible teachers who continue to teach year after year because they have tenure.

    I'm on a fellowship that won't allow me to TA anymore, and I only TAed one class before this. I talked to my advisor (who was on the job market recently - he's only been here 5-6 years) and he waved it away - he said that the experience would have been nice, but it's not really going to matter in a job market that's going to value my research over everything else. My other advisor (a full-professor who does hiring here) has told me the same thing, which is comforting but I think kind of contradicts the "common wisdom" that having TA positions will help you on the market.

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  26. Mmmm. . . the format of this thing seems changed. If somehow I fail to get this thoroughly posted, I'm Michael Harrawood.

    And, yes, Anonymous, I have heard of tenure. I have tenure, but didn't always. I was 55 when I got it, 50 when I got my first job. Having worked lots of jobs "on the outside" before starting my graduate career, I have observed that almost everybody on every job has to take shit. There's no reason why this job ought to be any different.

    I think I was reacting to the self-infantalizing language, "hissy fit," which, like "he yelled at me," is something I expect to hear from kids and people completely disempowered. The truth is that you are not disempowered in graduate school. Not by a long shot. If a professor or instructor went to temper, raised his or her voice, or abused anyone, in public or in private, and instead of making a complaint, filing a grievance, or, my personal favorite, getting back in that person's face, you post here that you got yelled at or a teacher threw a "hissy fit," that abuse is on you.

    I don't mean to make light of abuse on the job, and am perfectly aware of how humiliating and nerve-wracking graduate school can be. Here, like everywhere else, we take shit; that doesn't mean we have to suffer abuse.

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  27. The so-called "hissy fit" was in a 200-person undergraduate lecture. Most of the people in the room - with the exception of the professor and 3 or 4 TAs - were about 19 years old (in fact he ridiculed the juniors and seniors in the class because it was a required intro-level one), nowhere near graduate school and still very new at the whole "being an adult" thing. We also didn't take him seriously enough to be upset, but it did make me wonder how he treated the TAs in private, especially since he displayed easily that he enjoyed embarrassing them in public.

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  28. I didn't appreciate my TA job until I lost ALL my funding. Miraculously the grad advisor got the TA-ship back for me for one semester - now it pays my tuition and rent, and I couldn't have managed without it. I agree that it's a lot of work, but it is useful for my career development - I get to re-learn intermediate-level material in my area, and practice teaching a section. I understand that students in other departments/universities are not quite so lucky, but its intended purpose is to help us...

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  29. Like everything else in grad, being a teaching assistant was boring, disappointing, frustrating, degrading, unrewarding, and an enormous time sink. One professor for whom I worked wanted us to draft purely regurgative "study questions" that he could compile into a question bank to use for future exams. The lack of respect from students, well, that hardly merits a further mention.

    The worst part of it, I think, was having to parrot the professor's party line de jour, so if he was foisting his witless, boring, outdated monograph on the undergraduates, I had to feign interest in the bloody thing and figure out some way to stretch it to cover six of the fifteen weeks in the semester. A total travesty. Another professor for whom I TA'd gave a midterm exam with two essay questions to choose...out of exactly two. After reading forty or fifty of the same dim-bulb answers, quoting or misquoting the same passages in the same scanty volume, I nearly lost my sanity. On top of it, he insisted on an extremely specific answer; even those students who had actually read the book and evinced a measure of understanding--a distinct minority--were to be penalised if they didn't state precisely what he had in mind. And what he had in mind was by no means the sole plausible interpretation, nor could it necessarily be gleaned from the texts or even his lectures; it was essentially an exercise in mind-reading. Utterly absurd.

    Over the years, I've been in the military, I've worked in a bookshop, I've sailed around the world on merchant vessels, I've worked on a tugboat, as a handyman, a common labourer--digging ditches, quite literally--and as a dishwasher (yes, a la Orwell), and nothing, absolutely nothing, could possibly rival the graduate school TA experience for sheer misery, pointlessness, and degradation.

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  30. Well. This is a very deeply embittered list of grievances. I also worked many (most) of the same jobs, and did not find my graduate experience to be as pointless and degrading as you did. Maybe it is for the best that you got out. I like my job. But there's a bigger point here, with which I'm sure you'll agree on the basis of your broad work range. You take shit on every job. Most of the reflections on this site carry a sense of shock that graduate students, and by extension, tenured professors, have to take shit, get debased, degraded and humiliated. I find a sense of entitlement in these comments that seems to assume the job ought to be different. When you talk about dim bulb answers or the party line du jour, you're suggesting you're smarter than the prof for whom you work, too smart, in fact, to have to do this particular work. This may be so. But it speaks about you and not the profession.

    With respect,
    Michael Harrawood

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    1. Michael has some valid points.

      There is shit and humiliation in every job. I am an MA student in my first semester as a TA and the class that I picked. Problem is, the title and the vague description vs. the reality were very different. This is outside of my field, despite its listing, and the other TA is in his last year of PhD study and is an expert in this field who has TA'd for the prof before. I don't want to say anything else on the details as I do not want to "out" myself.

      I constantly feel humiliated every time I am in the class. The prof was asking me questions that I did not know, though to his credit, he later apologized, he can be a bit over the top, but he is a good soul. It is clear to the class that I do not know this stuff. If I had to pick this class all over again, I would not.

      Folks, this is humiliation. But took it really hard the first few weeks, but it is getting better. I have been able to help my students during office hours, (though the majority go to the expert TA, though some students come to me because hey feel intimidated by him too, and I guess I am more approachable) and I have been giving good feedback on their papers when I grade them, and the prof does check them over because he wants to see how the students are doing and will change my grades if he feels the need (fine with me). And if any student challenges me on the grade, I tell them that they have the right to petition the prof, and he said that he will settle any disputes.

      Anyway, as bad as this is, it could be worse. We don't make much, but we also only work 10/hrs week and have health benefits. There is shit in every job.

      I do not come from a middle class background in any way. No one in my family went to college, I worked a lot of shit jobs and suffered pretty severe humiliation before I started college later in life. Compared to that, this is not bad.

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    2. Are you me by any chance? .. Well if not that is a pretty damn accurate description of my situation at the moment.

      Problem in the class I'm TA'ing is that the professor who teaches and TA #2 doesn't answer most of the students questions. They tell them to ask each other instead, and when that doesn't work they ask me (which is the next natural step). I know for a fact! That they do this because they can't actually answer their questions and it is not hard questions, it is not beyond the material or anything in the course-description. Now imagine this, you're a student 2. semester, the only reason you got this job is because you got an A at the exam which was multiple-choice (~15% got A at the exam.) The people you're trying to TA are 1. semester students. Just imagine the "respect" they show you, especially if you can't answer a question (with 18 hours of TA'ing this has happened 3-4 times). I don't know what to do! I want to help these guys and I am really trying! A lot of the way I can answer their questions and they seem to appreciate that. But as soon as I can't answer a question or say "I'm just going to look that up for you and return back ok?" I'm just the "bad" TA who knows nothing. I don't know if this is what they are thinking, but I fear they do. The biggest problem I have are the guys who have a lot of experience in programming and know all the ins and outs before they start at the University. It seems like if I don't know more or just as much as they do, then I must be a bad students and TA and of course this is highly unproffesional of the University and what not.

      I could really use some help. Is it ok to leave the job mid-semester, I can't imagine that it is..

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    3. Michael: It is certainly true in every job, one must take guff. The key issues, therefore, are: a) precisely what kind of guff, and b) whether it's proportional to the rewards. I contend that the guff we encounter the the conventional graduate school experience is of a sort vastly more objectionable to what one encounters on most jobs. In most of the corporate and business world, value is placed on avoiding controversy and teamwork, in order to keep personal rivalries and friction at a minimum and to get the job done as efficaciously as possible. (I don't claim that they always achieve this goals, but that is the general policy.) In academia, egotism abounds, and, as has been amply explicated elsewhere on this blogs, one is surrounded by inordinately dysfunctional types who cannot cut in the real world or have no desire to do so. Secondly, given the abysmal financial picture inherent in graduate school--the shameful poverty, the death of jobs, the phenomenon of good tenure-track jobs being systematically replaced with benefit-free adjunct positions, etc.--I would argue that the rewards are not commensurate with the guff factor. Capping it all is the abuse and humiliation one must endure from undergraduates and society at large. The irony is that many of us rush to academia to escape having to pull up our socks and face the 9-5 workaday grind, hoping foolishly that we'll find solace and refuge in "school" and the Life of the Mind, only to discover that we have actually landed in a work environment that is far, far worse than any cubicle job.

      Oh, and on a final note, I do not claim that I am more intelligent or gifted than all of the people I knew in graduate school. If I have left such an impression, please believe me that I did not intend to do so. I do believe that I was substantially more capabl than many, including many posturing, phony, preening strutting fools who were adroit and PC enough to worm their way into getting more than their fair share of the benefits, but I will readily concede that there were also a substantial number of genuinely capable, gifted people. All the same, however, our Blogger is eminently correct when he says that by and large the truly creative, bright, and driven people these days are to be found elsewhere. The portrait of Jacques Barzun speaks volumes. You will very, very seldom find anyone remotely of his caliber in humanites or social science graduate programs nowadays. There is no need for them to bother.

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  31. TA's and professors need to communicate more effectively with one another. Some chinaman TA's can be real cock suckers.

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  32. servet naber lan?

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  33. Im Exil. I'm not sure why you go to Jacques Barzun, but okay. If you find the balance off between the shit you have to take and the rewards you get at the end of the day, by all means quit and do something else. I came into the game late, after working as a circus performer in France, a cook and waiter, truck driver, and a few other things -- and I was pushing 50 when I got my Ph.D. I had to take shit in school, but after my years in the "real world" got very good at pushing back. You have to push back in any job. Right now, it's a hard market and the profession has done little to roll with the punches. We pretend it's business-as-usual, that grad school is about being 'smart,' and don't tell our grad students how hard it's going to be when they get out. There's too many people trying to get into the profession, so if you decide to get out. . . okay! I think the blogger and the early commenters relfect a sense that this profession is "higher minded" -- on account we're all so smart! -- and that if we take shit in grad school, something MUST be wrong. As I say above, this strikes me as the very narcissism and mandarinism to which you object.

    I had to push back in school, like everybody else. Maybe harder because I'm not a high-school graduate and had to fight my way in. But I love my job and am glad I'm a college professor -- and I try hard not to be the kind of asshole y'all describe here. And I promise there are people in grad programs right now who will tell you in ten years they love their jobs.

    In friendship,

    Michael Harrawood

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