Teaching Assistants

The Department of Economics assigns graduate student teaching assistants to undergraduate and graduate classes. Assignment to specific courses depends upon a variety of factors. While we attempt to honor the preferences of the graduate student, we also need to account for the needs of the instructor and enrollment patterns in different courses. Graduate TAs are expected to be on campus and available to students from the first day of courses until the grades are submitted at the end of semester. Please check with the instructor before making travel plans for the end of semester. Extended absences during the semester are strongly discouraged and must be approved by the DGS and the instructor. 

A list of typical responsibilities of graduate TAs follows:

  • Lead conference sections.
  • Hold office hours and/or be available at other times to help students with questions.
  •  Grade homework assignments.
  • Help to prepare homework assignments and exam questions, if so requested.
  • Grade exams.
  • Help to administer (proctor) exams, including prevention and detection of cheating.
  • Work with the instructor to have a system in place for returning homeworks and exams.
  • Help the instructor to maintain records of homework and exam performance. 

A graduate TA is expected to spend up to twenty hours per week during the semester fulfilling responsibilities that may include conducting review sessions, holding office hours, meeting with students at other times if needed, helping with the preparation of homework problems and/or exams, proctoring exams, and grading. Depending on the availability of TAs, classes with large enrollment are assigned at least one graduate TA, with some very large classes being assigned undergraduate TAs and graders as well. Graduate TAs are generally expected to grade both homework and exams as part of their appointments. Additional graders will only be assigned to courses under two scenarios. First, courses staffed primarily with undergraduate TAs can request graduate graders for exams. Second, courses with a high enrollment to graduate TA ratio (>60) may have undergraduate graders to assist in grading of homework. Requests for adding undergraduate graders to courses with lower ratios should be made to the DGS and the chair. 

Undergraduate graders work under supervision, with a system in place to prevent conflicts of interest by having each undergraduate grader identify and not grade the exams of students with whom they have out-of-class relationships. Also, undergraduates should be asked to grade mainly questions having unambiguous answers, such as multiple choice, leaving the grading of answers involving more judgment to graduate TAs and instructors. While graders can grade individual assignments and exams, the instructor must play a supervisory role and take full responsibility for the determination of final course grades. 

With regard to the proctoring of exams, it should be emphasized that TAs have an important responsibility of helping instructors to be vigilant against cheating so that honest students are not penalized for their honesty. Whenever feasible, for example, seating should be arranged so that students are not completing the same short answer questions side by side in an exam room, and a TA helping to proctor an exam should be keeping a close eye on the students and helping to make sure that multiple students are not on simultaneous bathroom breaks. If definite cheating is detected or strongly suspected, the TA must report it and be ready to help the instructor to pursue disciplinary action as required by university policies. However, instructors should not leave administering of a final exam entirely to TAs; they should themselves be present for at least part of the exam to deal with any questions that arise. 

It is expected that graduate TAs will conduct themselves in a professional and respectful manner when interacting with undergraduates. More specifically, Brown and the Economics Department take issues regarding sexual harassment very seriously. Below are relevant excerpts from the University’s Harassment Policy regarding both harassment and amorous relationships between graduate TAs and undergraduate students: 

 

“Faculty members and graduate teaching assistants are advised against having an amorous relationship with a student who is enrolled in a course taught by the faculty member or graduate teaching assistant… Amorous relationships between faculty members and students (graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, etc. included) or between graduate teaching assistants and undergraduate students occurring outside the instructional context may also lead to difficulties. This is particularly true when the faculty member/graduate teaching assistant/student are in the same academic unit or in units that are academically allied. Moreover, relationships that the parties view as consensual may appear to others to be exploitative. In these types of situations, the faculty member/graduate teaching assistant may face serious conflicts of interest and should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize the student with whom the faculty member has or has had an amorous relationship.”