The BE Department requires its graduate students enrolled in the Ph.D. program to serve as a teaching assistant for one semester after completing the first year and successfully passing the written qualifying exams. Students serve as teaching assistants for one semester.
Teaching Assistants (TAs) play a central role in the Department’s educational program. Service as a Teaching Assistant, working closely with one or more faculty members in the Department, is an important and beneficial aspect of the graduate school experience. Each TA is assigned to a specific undergraduate or graduate subject. While the exact duties of the TA vary depending on the subject and the teaching methodology of the subject instructor(s), typically, the TA duties involve:
- TAs can be expected to devote up to a 20 hours per week, averaged over the semester, helping to teach a subject. This number, ~260 hours over the course of a 13-week semester, represents the absolute maximum time commitment that is to be required of the TA. It represents total time, including preparing recitations, teaching, holding office hours, and contributing to problem sets.
- TAs attend all lectures, and should take notes, which may be requested by the faculty lecturer.
- TAs are responsible for preparing and teaching recitations.
- Lab course TA’s have lab-specific responsibilities that may include set-up of lab equipment, testing of lab experiments, and assisting students during lab course time, among others. The ~260 hour maximum time commitment is applicable to one lab course module.
- TAs hold regular office hours.
- Faculty and TAs proctor exams.
- TAs may grade problem sets and quizzes and may grade exams/term papers/projects with a faculty-provided scoring rubric.
- TAs may play a role in designing problem sets, quizzes, and study problems, under guidance from a faculty member.
- While TAs may make suggestions for exam questions and give feedback on drafts written by faculty, TAs are not responsible for writing exams.
- Answer keys for exams or problem sets are a shared responsibility of faculty and TAs, with faculty responsible for the final content of the answer key and for re-grading exams, as needed.
- As requested by faculty, TAs will take exams before they are given to the class, to improve clarity of the exam and their ability to grade.
- Former TAs are encouraged to mentor and/or help the current TAs, but the responsibility of the TAship stops at the end of the semester, typically after grades are submitted.
TA Assignment Process
TA assignments are generally made at least one month before the beginning of the academic year. In some cases, enrollment-driven last-minute TA assignments or changes are necessary. Students are asked to submit their subject choices to TA after their written qualifying exams. The Department then makes final assignments of TA’s based on course offerings and enrollments for the academic year.
It is the responsibility of the student to coordinate the selection of which semesters are best to TA with their research advisor(s) with the understanding that the student will not be paid as TA by the Department but will be supported by their research advisor funds. The early identification of possible periods of TA duty allows for effective planning by students and research advisors of activities related to the thesis project. Upon assignment of a teaching assistantship, it is the responsibility of the TA to contact the subject instructor(s) and request of detailed responsibilities.
Training and Resources
All graduate students are expected to attend a one-day BE TA training (held in August) in the year before their assignment. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of other teaching-training opportunities at MIT, such as the Office of Graduate Education, the Teaching and Learning Laboratory (TLL), and the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program.
The BE Department has a TA Material Resource Dropbox managed by the Academic Office. TAs are encouraged to deposit materials that would be helpful for future TAs in preparing for recitations, administrative tasks, quiz/homework/test preparation, and more.
BE Teaching Assistant excellence awards recognize outstanding achievements of TAs in Biological Engineering classes. Up to three awards are given annually to TAs displaying outstanding dedication to and achievement in teaching.
The award winners are selected by a panel of BE professors and faculty, with selection based on feedback from course instructors and students. Each award carries equal cash prizes for the awardee (personal prize) and the awardee’s research advisor (discretionary funds) in the amounts of $1000 (TA of the Year) and $500 (TA Excellence Awards). Nominations for the awards are solicited each summer, and the awards will be announced at the BE departmental retreat in the fall.
Students must register for 20.960 (Teaching Experience) for 12 units during the semester for which they were assigned to TA.
The required semester of teaching is not funded by the Department; however, in special cases, students may teach beyond the minimal requirements and receive compensation. In this case, their pay and benefits are similar to those of research assistantships.
Conflicts during TAing
Problems that arise during the TA should be brought to the attention of any of the following: (1) BE REFs, (2) the BE Graduate Program Chair, (3) the Head of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, or (4) the Head of the Department.