What are Graduate Teaching Assistants?
Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) are postgraduate research students who support academic and faculty staff members with their teaching responsibility.
As a GTA, you may help a lecturer teach students, review papers and organise the classes time table and room bookings. If your university allows for it, you may even teach your own class independently and only meet your supervising professor when you require support or advice. This will assume that you have first gained enough experience to do this first.
Besides teaching, you may also be asked to assist with a staff member’s research. For example, if you’re a STEM student, you may help to organise and set-up laboratory equipment for one of their experiments. Alternatively, you could work as a tutor in one of the education centres run by your university. For instance, if you’re GTA in Civil Engineering, you could tutor students who are struggling to grasp some fundamental mathematical concepts used in engineering.
Responsibilities of Graduate Teaching Assistants
The core responsibilities of GTAs include:
- Deliver classes – Support (and sometimes lead) seminars and tutorials.
- Supervise projects – Assist undergraduate and postgraduate students working on their final year projects.
- Support learning – Support students with the technical aspects of their course.
- Provide feedback – Provide students with valuable and timely feedback to aid in their development.
- Review work – Participate in the assessment process by marking work.
- Give demonstrations – Deliver demonstrations for practical work, advising on the required skills, methods and techniques.
- Support fieldwork – Assist in the preparation and delivery of fieldwork.
- Be effective – Familiarise themselves with course material, continually develop their skills and undertake training to enable the best support for students.
- Pastoral care – Direct students to support facilities provided by the university based on their personal needs.
In addition to this, you may be asked to undertake the below additional duties from time to time:
- Participate in the assessment process by invigilating exams.
- Help develop, update and gather teaching material to support the development of the course curriculum.
- Take on limited administrative responsibilities as requested by the Head of Department.
- Provide in-person or email support to assist with student enquiries during the exam period.
While you will have many duties, you won’t be solely responsible for them. You will be appointed a supervising professor who you will report to and frequently check in with. As well as this, all members of staff will usually be more than happy to support you should you need it.
Benefits of becoming a Graduate Teaching Assistant
Being a GTA will give you an opportunity to extend your knowledge and acquire new skills. These include teaching, communicating and the ability to breakdown complex theories in a way which can be easier understood.
Besides this, teaching students is an excellent way to develop your abilities. It will help you consolidate your existing technical knowledge, gain knowledge in new topics and get valuable hands-on experience in teaching. This will be a significant advantage if you are planning a career in academia. Undertaking the duties of a GTA will adequately help you prepare for a career as a lecturer, and will provide you with a strong foundation that you can use to sell yourself when applying to your first lectureship position.
In addition to this, GTA positions come with a studentship which covers your full tuition fee and provides a stipend for your living costs.
Requirements for becoming a Graduate Teaching Assistant
The eligibility requirements for GTAs differ between universities, however, the typical requirements are:
Graduate Teaching Assistant Salary
A Graduate Teaching Assistant position usually comes with a salary, tuition fees and a stipend.
Universities have two approaches for paying GTA salaries. Some pay an hourly rate whereas others pay a fixed monthly amount.
While the hourly rate will depend on your specific agreement with your university, we’ve extracted the hourly rates for 2019/20 GTA students from the University of York as an example:
Hourly Rate for Graduate Teaching Assistants
Universities which pay a fixed amount typically do so under the nationally-agreed pay spine set out by University and College Union (UCU). This pay spine works by assigning job positions a ‘spine point’ value which then corresponds to an annual salary figure. The spine value a Graduate Teaching Assistant is assigned will differ depending on the level of responsibilities the position will have. However, taking the University of Kent as an example, they assign GTAs a spine point of 24 which corresponds to an annual salary of £27,830 (Note: This is based on the 2018/19 pay spine as the 2019/20 pay spine is yet to be agreed).
As part of GTA scholarships, your university will cover your tuition fees, usually for the first three years of your study if studying full time or longer if studying part-time.
For Home/EU students, your tuition fees will nearly always be covered in full. However, if you’re an international student, the GTA may only cover part of your fees. In these situations, you will be responsible for covering the difference.
You will also receive a stipend to help cover your living, travelling and other related costs. Similar to the tuition fees, the stipend is usually provided for the first three years of your registration period or longer if you’re a part-time student. Your stipend will be paid in monthly instalments and will be a minimum of £4,407 per year, as per the Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2020/21.
As mentioned earlier, keep in mind that some universities incorporate your stipend value into your annual salary.
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Working Hours and Annual Leave
Your working hours will vary depending on your department; some departments require 4 hours per week, whereas others require up to 20 hours. Regardless of the number of hours you’re required to work, you may be thankful to know that your working hours will include preparing for lectures and undertaking training; not just the time you’re physically teaching.
Besides total working hours, your GTA contract will also specify the amount of paid annual leave you’ll be entitled to. This will be prorated from your contracted number of working hours. Continuing to use the University of Kent as an example, they contract their GTAs to work 240 hours per each academic calendar year (equating to 7 hours per week) with 40 hours of paid annual leave.
While you will have a set number of annual hours, their allocation will vary weekly depending on the needs of your department. As a result, it’s not uncommon to work 5 hours one week and 10 hours the following week. While your working hours will need to be flexible, your supervising professor will work with you to agree on a schedule that doesn’t affect your ability to carry out your doctorate.
If you’re an international student, you can still apply to become a Graduate Teaching Assistant. However, check whether your student visa places any restrictions on what you can and can’t do. Overseas students will typically be on Tier 4 visas, which don’t allow you to work over 20 hours per week. Ensure you account for this when arranging your workload, especially during periods of training or lecture preparation where your hours can quickly add up. If you exceed this restriction, you will be in breach of your Tier 4 visa and could face a fine or having your visa and therefore doctorate study revoked.
Is a Graduate Teaching Assistantship for you?
Before applying to become a Graduate Teaching Assistant, it’s essential you first discover as much information about the positions at each of your prospective universities. Most importantly, find out what your exact obligations will be. At some institutions, teaching assistants only mark coursework and lead tutorial sessions. At other universities, they’ll expect you to take on all the responsibilities discussed in this guide.
While teaching assistants in their first year will have reduced job responsibility, they will still spend much time planning lessons and providing contact time for students. This may sound easily manageable, but once you add your research project into the mix, it can become overwhelming.
Be honest with yourself – do you have good time-management skills? Are you disciplined enough to work on your research even after having spent several hours teaching undergraduate students? If your answer is no, then reconsider whether you really want to take on the additional responsibilities of a GTA.
How to Find Graduate Teaching Assistant positions?
GTA positions are advertised the same way regular PhD positions are; therefore, you don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary to find them. Search our extensive database of PhD programmes to see whether there are any GTA positions available, or browse the postgraduate programmes section on the websites of the universities you’re interested in.
Some universities choose not to assign GTA positions to specific PhD projects but instead leave them open to all PhD programmes.
Therefore, state your interest in becoming a Graduate Teaching Assistant when contacting supervisors about available PhD projects. This will allow supervisors to know your intentions and advise you further.