Getting to Know Your Teaching Assistant (TA)


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Many students fail to realize the critical importance of Teaching Assistants (TAs) for their success. Students rarely comprehend just how much of their mark depends on the fact that TAs read and mark various assignments.

One of my third year research professors put it best when speaking about TAs; “These are the people who mark your papers, assignments, midterms, and finals. If I were you, I would get to know them.”

Furthermore, it is worthwhile to note just how much class time is spent with a TA.

What are some things you should know about your TAs?

What is the purpose of TAs?

They are there for you: the role of a TA is to supplement or provide further support and education to students beyond regular lectures and presentations.

What do they do?

  • They run tutorials, cover lecture material, lead discussions, and foster question and answer sessions.
  • The learning and application of course material takes place in tutorials, which are run by the TA.
  • They often give advice about what can be expected for midterms, finals, and assignments.
  • Under the supervision of a professor, they mark most of your assignments. As a result, you should speak to them if you ever have concerns about past marks, details of an assignment, or course or assignment expectations.
  • They hold your future mark in their hands.
  • As they are well acquainted with course material, TAs are a great source for course knowledge. They may have taken the same course in the past, perhaps even with the same professor.
  • Participation during tutorials represents a portion of the mark in many courses. If you know your TA, you will be more comfortable speaking and asking questions in tutorials, which will generally lead to a higher participation mark.
  • Science, statistics, and mathematics hold lab sessions where TAs are present to field questions.

How much time will you spend with your TA?

First and second year students may spend one hour a week with TAs and/or fellow students in smaller groups; two hours is common in other courses. Overall, this represents approximately 33% of dedicated class time.

How do TAs operate?

  • They have scheduled office hours and are available by email.
  • They are generally easy to contact as they are often on campus many times a week.

Additional benefits

  • Most can sympathize or share experiences with you as they were likely in your position not too long ago.
  • TAs are usually a good source to talk to in a general way about your academic program. They can share their experience and advice. They offer an alternative perspective to the academic advisor on graduate schools, course selection, etc.
  • Knowing your TA increases a tutorial atmosphere that is conducive to open discussion, and further, supports a positive, active learning environment. This is better for everyone.
  • Knowing the TA fosters more productive discussions and you may feel more comfortable raising issues. This increases your potential to extract all you can from a course.
  • TAs offer a more peer-oriented outlet to ask questions.


Thanks to Adam Way, 4th Year SFU Student who contributed to this handout, April 2008.