Teaching Assistantships and Proctorships

The Department determines the form in which your guaranteed Graduate School funding is allocated to you. TAships, Proctorships, Research Assistantships, and Research Fellowships will be assigned according to the faculty’s assessment of the graduate student’s needs as well as the needs of the undergraduate program. These positions come with tuition, health insurance, health services fee, and a stipend.

Brown’s PhD program trains graduate students to become teachers as well as researchers. We regard TAships not only as financial aid, but as an opportunity for you to develop your teaching skills. Most students will hold TAships in the Department from the second to the fourth year. Each TA works closely with the professor from the assigned course to design independent discussion sections for undergraduate students enrolled in the class. You will be asked to teach two sections of approximately 15-25 students each, and to grade assignments for those students.

Proctorships are research internships, normally at the RISD Museum. There may also be opportunities to serve as a Research Assistant for a professor in the HAA Department or beyond.

Distribution of TAs

The Department is committed to a policy that will allow us to staff large classes appropriately, while allowing graduate students the opportunity to teach in smaller classes, especially those in their chosen area of interest. To this end the Department keeps records of enrollments by course, a history of which courses graduate students have TA’d for, and a history of when and which small classes (under 50 students) have had TAs. Our goal is to staff the large classes to a ratio of 1 TA per 50 undergraduates and to assign, on a rotating basis, a single TA to classes between 35 and 50 students. Classes under 35 students will not receive a TA unless enrollments are such that we have people and positions to spare. We will try to ensure that graduate students will have the opportunity to TA for a variety of classes, including small (35-50) classes and, at least once during their time at Brown, a class taught by their advisor. Graduate students should understand, however, that the opportunity to TA for their advisor will depend on enrollments and the leave pattern of the faculty.

TA Assignments

In making TA assignments fairly and equitably, the DGS will take into account the requests of the graduate students and the history of their previous TA or proctor assignments. Large fluctuations in course enrollments caused by Brown’s two week “shopping period” make it impossible to assign all the TAships in advance of the beginning of the semester. Before the semester begins, however, the DGS will assign a core group of TAs to courses that have regularly drawn more than 50 students. The individuals forming this core group will be drawn from the ranks of those less advanced graduate students who are still engaged in coursework, since they have the most difficult schedules to manage. The DGS will also, where at all possible, try to indicate which of one or two possible courses those not in the core group (“floaters”) will be most likely be assigned to, so they can arrange their own schedule accordingly. It is anticipated that most sections will begin the second full week of classes, but there is no way fairly to regulate when sections will begin. Some enrollments stabilize earlier than others, and undergraduates in these courses should not be forced to forego sections because other class enrollments are still fluctuating. Faculty members decide whether or not to teach classes or hold review sessions during reading week. While some TAs may teach an extra section or two in a given semester, varying the types of TA assignments students have over their Brown career should ensure that no one will repeatedly have to teach more than the norm. If such a disparity does arise, the graduate student should contact the DGS immediately, so that the situation can be redressed in future TA assignments.

TA Responsibilities

TAs are responsible for grading the examinations and papers of no more than 50 undergraduates. Faculty members are expected to help with the grading if necessary. In the case of serious shortfalls the faculty member may seek assistance from the Department in hiring additional graders.

TAs are responsible for teaching no more than 25* students per section. They also are expected to hold weekly office hours and to meet with students by appointment who are unable to attend scheduled office hours. (*Based on the number of students who actually attend section after the first 2 weeks that sections are held.)

The faculty will supply the TAs with a written statement of their duties and responsibilities at the beginning of each semester. TAs should bear in mind, however, that circumstances may arise where the faculty may need to call on the TA to do the occasional task that was not anticipated, therefore not set out in writing in advance. Regular duties will vary from course to course. Commonly assigned duties, beyond grading, preparing (with the help of the faculty member) and teaching sections include: posting images to course website, photocopying hand-outs, assignments and examinations, and accompanying the faculty member on field trips. Some faculty may also request that their TAs pull slides, make slide sheets, or post information to a course website. This is acceptable as long as the TA is not averaging more than the 20 hours a week mandated as the maximum time to be spent on TA related work.

Preparing sections: In courses staffed by 2 or more TAs, section preparation will be done on a rotating basis. All the TAs will use the same section preparation as the starting point for teaching their section. The faculty member in charge is expected to help the TAs with these preparations.

The H. W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning

The Sheridan Center provides pedagogical training and teaching certification, as well as other professional development services, to faculty and graduate students. More information about programs and services can be found at the Sheridan Center website.

Teaching Evaluations

The department has a standard evaluation form for each class, in which students are asked to evaluate the course and its design, and the performance of the professor and TA. These forms provide us with valuable information on each course. It is the professor’s responsibility to provide students with ample time to fill out the evaluations at some point during class at the end of the semester. You should let students know that you value their responses, and that you will not be allowed to read them until after grades have been submitted. TAs are allowed to review evaluations in the department office after the end of the semester in which the course was taught. The feedback provided on evaluations can be useful in helping you develop your skills as a teacher. In addition, quality of your performance as a TA (effort, participation, etc) reflects on graduate student rankings and evaluation by professors. So that the professor’s impression of your teaching skills is not based solely on undergraduate evaluations, you should invite a member of the faculty to visit one of your sections. Such a visit can provide useful insights on your teaching strategies, and, importantly, will allow that faculty member to write an informed letter regarding your teaching when you venture onto the job market.

Guidelines for Faculty Use of Teaching Assistants

The Graduate School's policy is that Teaching Assistants spend no more than 15-20 hours a week on teaching.

  1. While you may have to do more work in some weeks than in others, the average hours you put in over the semester should not exceed this limit. It is your responsibility to ask your supervisor or the DGS when the heavy-duty periods of the semester will be (usually this will be around mid-semester and finals), and to plan your work accordingly.
  2. As part of your training as a university teacher, you may be offered the opportunity to deliver a lecture or to help plan the syllabus. We offer these opportunities as a way for you to gain professional experience. Such opportunities are voluntary and should be negotiated between faculty member and graduate student.
  3. The final grades are ultimately the faculty member's responsibility, and there should be a clear understanding between you and the faculty member as to how your authority is supposed to interact with his or hers.

In Case of Problems

Students having trouble should not hesitate to consult the DGS, the Department Chair, or the relevant faculty member. Most problems can be averted in advance through timely communication. In the unlikely event of a problem that cannot be resolved within the Department, the Graduate School has adopted a university-wide grievance procedure, to which you may turn if these less formal and local measures fail. In cases where there is some disagreement between you and the faculty member or between either and the DGS, the Chair will review the evidence, discuss the matter with everyone involved, and report his or her conclusions in writing to you. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of this process, you are always free to pursue the Graduate School's grievance procedures. You can easily obtain a copy of this document in the Department office or from the office of the Dean of the Graduate School.

If one of your students has complaints about your teaching or grading and you cannot resolve the problem yourself, you should discuss the situation to the faculty member supervising the course.