Teaching, Advising, and Internal Dissertation Fellowships

To qualify for the Ph.D., a graduate student must acquire teaching experience under the supervision of a faculty member in both his/her main field of expertise and in a second field. This is typically done through teaching assistantships (TAships), although on rare occasions advanced graduate students will be allowed to teach their own courses. Most students should expect to TA a minimum of four semesters at Brown.

Assignment of Teaching Assistantships

Appointment and reappointment as a TA are contingent on a student remaining in good standing in the program. Priority in allocating TAships is given to students in their first through fifth years who have received a five-year (10 semester) financial aid package from Brown. If you are entitled to a TAship during your first through fifth years, and accept internal or external funding in lieu of a Department TAship, you will not be entitled to claim the foregone TAship in a subsequent semester. However, the Department will make every effort to secure a TAship for you in a subsequent semester, should you submit a request for TA support; you will be given priority for any unfilled TA positions after the needs of funded first through fifth year students have been met. In general, unfilled TAships are awarded to fifth year+ and otherwise unfunded students based on merit and financial need. Teaching assignments are made by the DGS with the intent of matching students to courses that address their intellectual and research interests. However, students will be assigned, at least once to a course that lies outside his or her expressed interests in order to ensure that they get a broad background in teaching. Teaching is a fundamental component of the academic profession and we wish to make sure that all of our graduate students receive proper training in that area.

At least one month prior to the beginning of each semester, the DGS will circulate a provisional announcement of teaching assignments to faculty and graduate students. Although sweeping changes in the assignments are rare, students and faculty are informed that changes are certainly possible based on enrollment shifts and the like; typically, TA assignments are not finalized until the second week of the new semester.

Teaching Responsibilities

Although the precise terms of each TAship are set by the course instructor, serving as a TA in the Department of Political Science generally entails attending lectures delivered by the professor, leading two 50-minute discussion sections (a.k.a. "course conferences") for approximately 25 students per section, holding office hours, and grading papers. The Graduate School's policy is that TAs must not spend more than 15-20 hours per week on TA-related duties. You may do more in some weeks (e.g. midterm; end-of-semester) and less in others, but the average should remain at or below the maximum limit. The division of labor between you and the course instructor for the assigning of grades, and the policies and criteria to be applied, should be worked out clearly in advance. Grades are ultimately the course instructor's responsibility.

The Department strongly urges all of its graduate students to contact the Harriet W. Sheriden Center for Teaching and Learning and to make full use of its programs, literature, and seminars. If you are having problems balancing your teaching responsibilities with your coursework or research, or you are having trouble finding your feet in the classroom, consult with the course instructor and/or the DGS -- we are here to help.

For your information, please read carefully Brown University’s general policy statement governing "consensual relationships". (See Appendix 1) The Department strongly encourages all teaching assistants to conduct themselves in a responsible and appropriate manner with all students under their supervision. Any inappropriate behavior on the part of a teaching assistant is grounds for termination from the program.

Teaching Evaluations

As part of the routine course evaluation process at the end of each semester, instructors will distribute a "Section Leader" evaluation form to undergraduates enrolled in their class. These are then turned in to the Department administrators, where they are collated and eventually turned over to the DGS. Students who have held TAships in the preceding semester are encouraged to come in and look these over, and to discuss their contents with the course instructor, the DGS, or both.

In 1998, the Department instituted a more formal evaluation process for teaching assistants. At the request of a graduate student teaching assistant, the supervising faculty member is to attend his/her course conference (a.k.a. "discussion section") and produce a brief but detailed report on the TA's overall performance at the end of the semester. Both the student and the Director of Graduate Studies will receive a copy of this report; a copy will also be placed in the student’s department file. Graduate students must request at least two such evaluations during their period of service as TAs in the program, one in their main field of study and the other in the second field.

Teaching Award

The P. Terrence Hopmann Award for Excellence in Teaching was created to honor the outstanding work of Teaching Assistants. This award will be given to a minimum of one student per semester. Award winners will be announced annually in the second semester for the previous spring and fall semesters. Winners will be selected by the Graduate Affairs Committee based on section leader evaluation scores and comments, and nominations by the students' faculty instructor. Students cannot win in consecutive semesters. This award carries a cash prize of $250.

Advising Undergraduates

As of 2009, graduate students are permitted to serve as readers for undergraduate senior theses. Undergraduates need a faculty member to serve as the primary advisor but graduate students can be secondary readers/advisors. Typically, the graduate student will be an advanced graduate student who has completed their coursework and passed their comprehensive exams. In exceptional cases, however, less advanced graduate students may be permitted to serve with the permission of the DGS. The main consideration is that a graduate students service as a reader not interfere with his/her own work and progress in the program. If you are interested, give your name and research area to Patti Gardner so she can make it available to undergraduates. Juniors must apply and have their readers selected by the middle of second semester of their junior year in order to be eligible to take the Honors thesis class their senior year.