TA Descriptions and Expectations

The Department of Physics and Astronomy hires approximately 60 Teaching Assistants (TAs) each semester to serve as laboratory and studio instructors, graders, tutors, and instructional assistants. These TA assignments are made by the Director of Undergraduate Laboratories and the Introductory Physics Course Coordinator, who match TA requests with department needs and circumstances. In making TA assignments, priority is given to continuing graduate students within the department (based on experience and class standing), but graduate students from other departments (especially Materials Science) are sometimes hired to fill the teaching needs of the department. Undergraduate students are hired for certain positions: Learning Assistant, Supplemental Instruction, Electronics Lab, Instructional Assistant, Lab Setup, and grading for some introductory courses.

Weekly TA workloads vary depending on the assignment, but a typical full TA (which is nominally a half-time appointment) during the fall or spring semesters requires approximately 18 hours per week for 14 weeks, or about 250 hours for the semester (this includes training time for new TAs). A summer session TA requires approximately 12 hours per week for 5 weeks, or a total of 60 hours. Unless otherwise noted as a fractional TA appointment, each of the assignments described below is based on these TA workload standards to maintain equity among TAs. If either the student or faculty supervisor finds that a particular assignment requires significantly more or less time than expected, the Director of Undergraduate Laboratories should be contacted to rectify the situation.

  • A101L (Laboratory Instructor for Astr101 – Descriptive Astronomy): Lead and grade 2 lab sections of up to 30 students each for 11 weeks. Typical weekly workload: 4 hours teaching + 4 hours lab preparation + 6 hours grading lab reports + 4 office hours = 18 hours. (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: Astro Course Coordinator)
  • A101LA (Learning Assistant for Astr10L): Undergraduate TA who assists students in lab. Weekly workload: ~2 hours per section; 0.1 TA (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: Astro Course Coordinator)
  • A101LG (Grader for Astr10L): Grade lab reports. Weekly workload: ~3 hours per section; 0.15 TA
  • AGN (Astronomy Guest Nights): Give a guided tour of the heavens each Friday night to about 30 public guests of all ages. Typical weekly workload: 1 hour preparation + 3 hours at observatory + 1 hour admin.; 0.3 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: Astro Course Coordinator)
  • A519A (Teaching Assistant for Astr519 – Observational Astronomy): Assist course instructor as needed. Workload varies depending on semester. (Fall or Spring. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P52A (Laboratory Assistant for Phys52 – Freshman Seminar on electronics: “Making the Right Connections”): Assist course instructor with laboratory instruction. Typical weekly workload: 9 hours for 0.5 TA. (Variable offerings. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P100D, SI (Demo Assistant for Phys100 – How Things Work): Prepare and assist with presentation of lecture demonstrations for Physics 100 course, which meets 3 times each week. Ideally, the same TA holds this assignment for several consecutive appointments. Typical weekly workload: 5 hours; 0.3 TA. When combined with Supplemental Instruction role (see below), the total expected workload is 0.5 TA. (Fall. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P106A (Instructional Assistant for Phys106 – Inquiry into the Physical World): Assist course instructor as needed. Workload varies depending on semester. (Fall. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P108/131A (Instructional Assistant for Phys108/131 – Physics of Energy & Our Energy and Climate Crisis): Assist course instructors as needed both in and out of class with recitations, lectures, lab activities, and field trips. Workload depends on enrollment and instructor expectations. (Fall or Spring. Supervisor: course instructors)
  • P114S or P115S (Studio Instructor for Phys114 or 115 – General Physics I, II): Lead one studio section and help with another as a Learning Assistant. Each studio meets twice per week throughout the semester. Students work in assigned groups of 3 or 4 on tutorial and laboratory group worksheets. Typical weekly workload: 8 contact hours + 3 hours preparation (including weekly meeting) + 3 hours grading + 3 office hours (2 in PTC) = 17 hours. (Fall, Spring. Supervisors: course coordinator and instructors)
  • P114LA or P115LA (Learning Assistant for Phys114 or 115): Assist with student learning during studio activities by asking and answering questions. Typical weekly workload: 4 contact hours + 2 hours preparation (including weekly meeting) + 1 hour in PTC = 7 hours; 0.4 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisors: course coordinator and instructors)
  • P118S or P119S (GTA for Studio section of Phys118 or 119): Responsible for one studio section (with up to 45 students) that includes laboratory and problem-solving activities. Typical weekly workload: 4 contact hours + 3 hours preparation (including weekly meeting) + 6 hours grading + 4 office hours (2 in PTC) = 17 hours. (Fall, Spring. Supervisors: course coordinator and instructors)
  • P118LA or P119LA (Learning Assistant for Phys118 or 119): Usually an undergraduate student who assists with student learning during class activities. Typical weekly workload: 4 contact hours + 2 hours preparation (including weekly meeting) + 1 hour in PTC = 7 hours; 0.4 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisors: course coordinator and instructors)
  • P281L (Laboratory Instructor for Phys281L – Modern Physics): Teach 3 lab sections of up to 12 students each for 13 weeks. Students submit formal written lab reports that must be graded by hand and returned within a week. The same TA usually holds this assignment for several consecutive semesters. Typical weekly workload: 9 contact hours + 3 hours preparation +4 hours grading lab reports + 3 office hours = 19 hours. (Fall, Spring. Supervisors: course instructor, Lab Director, Lab Manager)
  • P331L (Teaching Assistant for Phys331 – Numerical Techniques): Guide and assist students with their course assignments that utilize MATLAB and numerical methods learned in the lecture to solve physical problems and analyze scientific results using common computational techniques. The TA must have strong math and physics knowledge and be familiar with basic numerical methods and MATLAB. Willingness to learn new things and patience to scan someone else’s code for mistakes is beneficial. Typical weekly workload: 4 contact hours + 2 hours preparation + 4 hours grading + 2 office hours + 4 hours additional student assistance = 16 hours. (Spring. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P351L (Laboratory Instructor for Phys351 – Electronics I, analog): Assist students in 3 lab sections of up to 12 students each as they work on 11 analog electronics labs and Multisim. Each lab section has 2 TAs: usually one graduate student and one undergrad. Typical weekly workload: 9 hours in lab + 3 hours preparation + 2 hours grading labs + 4 hours grading homework = 19 hours. (Fall. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P352L (Laboratory Instructor for Phys352 – Electronics II, digital): Teach one lab section of up to 10 students and assist with one other. Students use LabVIEW to complete 7 digital electronics labs, including a digital lock project that is presented at Lockfest near the end of the semester. Most TAs for this course are undergraduate students who have taken the course, and a graduate student usually serves as the Head TA. Experience with LabVIEW is required. Typical weekly workload = 10 hours; 0.5 TA. (Spring. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P481L (Teaching Assistant for Phys481 – Advanced Lab): Advise and assist undergraduate junior and senior physics majors and materials science students as they perform independent experiments over 10 weeks. A working knowledge of advanced physics research laboratory equipment is required. Typical weekly workload: 7 contact hours + 2 hours grading + 1 hour preparation = 10 hours; 0.5 TA. (Fall. Supervisor: course instructor, Lab Manager)
  • P711/712R (Recitation for Phys711 and 712): Schedule and lead optional one-hour session each week to present and discuss mathematical methods associated with electromagnetic theory, including complex variables, Fourier techniques, multipole expansions, tensor analysis, special functions, etc. Review with students more difficult homework problems after they have been graded and returned, and answer questions related to course lecture, either immediately or the following week. Only graduate students who have passed the physics PhD qualifying exam are eligible for this assignment. Typical weekly workload: 1 contact hour teaching + 4 hours preparation = 5 hours; 0.3 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • P701/722R (Recitation for Phys701 and 722): Schedule and lead optional one-hour session each week to present and discuss mathematical methods and related problems associated with classical dynamics and quantum mechanics. Review with students more difficult homework problems after they have been graded and returned, and answer questions related to course lecture, either immediately or the following week. Only graduate students who have passed the physics PhD qualifying exam are eligible for this assignment. Typical weekly workload: 1 contact hour teaching + 4 hours preparation = 5 hours; 0.3 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: course instructor)
  • Supplemental Instruction (SI): This program provides optional academic support in a group discussion format for students in certain large-enrollment classes (currently just Phys100). Each SI leader attends class and holds three weekly SI sessions for a particular lecture section. The SI leader facilitates group problem-solving, encourages critical thinking, and helps students develop learning strategies appropriate to the course. Demand for SI varies throughout the semester (heavy before exams, light afterwards). Typical weekly workload: 3 hours attending class + 3 hours leading SI sessions + 1 hour preparation/admin. = 7 hours; 0.4 TA. (Fall, Spring, Summer. Supervisor: SI/PTC Manager, course instructors)
  • Physics Tutorial Center (PTC): Assist primarily Physics 114, 115, 118, and 119 students with questions they have about their homework or lab. Requires broad and capable understanding of introductory physics and patience to work with students. Assistance with the maintenance and administration of the PTC is expected during slow periods. (Fall, Spring, Summer. Supervisors: PTC Manager, Lab Director, Lab Manager)
  • SI/PTC Manager: Train and supervise SI leaders. Monitor the use of the Physics Tutorial Center and coordinate with the Lab Director and Lab Manager on strategies to best meet the needs of the students who utilize this resource. Typical weekly workload: 2 hours supervising SI leaders + 1 hour monitoring PTC + 2 hours administration and coordination = 5 hours; 0.3 TA. (Fall, Spring. Supervisor: Lab Director)
  • Instructional Assistant: Coordinate with the Lab Manager or Lab Director to assist with a variety of tasks associated with the introductory physics courses, including: setting up and taking down the apparatus for each of the laboratories, developing new experiments or demonstrations for the introductory physics labs, revising existing experiments, repairing equipment, or helping with other related activities to support the department’s teaching mission. Undergraduate students are usually hired on an hourly basis for this work. Typical workload is 5 hours/week. (Fall, Spring, Summer. Supervisor: Lab Manager)
  • Grading (G): Coordinate with faculty course instructor to grade homework or exams throughout the semester. Most grading jobs require rapid turnaround time (a few days), so the workload can be intense at times and calm in between. Multiple graders may be assigned to the same course to reduce the grading intensity. Completion and mastery of a course is required before a student can grade for that course; graduate students are usually employed for grading work. Typical workload: Most courses require 40 to 100 hours of total grading time, but the workload should not exceed 20 hours in any one week. (Fall, Spring, Summer. Supervisor: course instructor).

TA Request Forms

New TA Orientation and Training

Tutorial Center Guidelines

  • Please make sure you arrive on time for your scheduled hour. The sheet posted on the door to Phillips 365 is the official schedule, so make changes on it as needed. If you cannot cover your assigned time slot, make arrangements for another tutor to fill in for you. Students get frustrated if a tutor is scheduled but not available.
  • The door to the back offices (Phillips 347) should be unlocked in the morning before 9:00 AM so that the first tutor for the day can enter through this back office. If you find the room locked, please contact Brian Whitling in Phillips 331B or Shane Brogan in Phillips 201 to unlock the door. If you are the last tutor scheduled for the day, please remember to turn the deadbolt lock to the back office door (347) and close the front door so that it locks when you leave.
  • Use the login computer near the door to log yourself in and remind students to do the same. Also remember to log yourself out and answer the attendance questions. These logs are our primary records for tracking the use of this facility.
  • Wear a “Tutor” tag and sit at the front desk when you are available to help so that students know who to ask if they have a question.
  • Be proactive about asking students if they need assistance. Do not simply wait for them to ask you for help. During periods when nobody needs any help, you can do your own work (grading papers, reading, etc.), but it is important that you appear ready to help. Students should not feel like they are bothering you if they ask for assistance.
  • A principal rule to follow when tutoring is to guide students toward the correct answer without doing the work for them. Tutors should “sit on their hands” and let the students do the writing while asking probing questions to guide them toward a solution (this is called the Socratic dialogue method). Students will learn and remember much more from this technique than if you simply tell them the answer.
  • As a tutor, you are not expected to have all the answers (even though students may have this expectation), but you should make a reasonable effort to help students. If you do not know the answer to a question, try to give the student guidance on where to get help (e.g. from another tutor familiar with the subject, their course instructor, lab TA, etc.).
  • Be patient with students and do not speak in a patronizing or condescending tone.
  • Strive to remain friendly and pleasant, even if a student becomes frustrated.
  • Treat students fairly and equally, helping students as needed. If more than one student needs your assistance at the same time, try to split your time so that students are not kept waiting. Avoid spending more than 5 minutes helping any one student during busy periods. If several students have similar questions, you may be able to facilitate a group problem-solving session.
  • If you teach a lab and your students have to wait for your help when the tutorial center is busy, remind them that in addition to your scheduled time in the tutorial center, you also have office time reserved just for them.
  • No food or drinks are allowed in Phillips 365. Please help enforce this policy.
  • Help keep the room neat and clean by pushing in chairs, throwing out trash, etc.
  • If you or any students have comments (positive or negative) about the tutorial center, or suggestions for improving this service, please enter a comment using the login computer.