Life As a Graduate Teaching Assistant

November 3, 2017 Christopher Ruel

I recently spoke to Danielle Dillinger, a former graduate assistant at the Richards College of Business at the University of West Georgia, and asked her to give us an inside look at the life of 21st –century graduate teaching assistant. Danielle delivers a few tips and encouragement for graduate students considering the role.


Q. What is the most satisfying aspect of being a Graduate Teaching Assistant?

A. The most satisfying part of being a GTA, for me, is the ability to use my passions to help other students. My undergraduate degree is a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems. I love technology—all aspects of it. I have many students coming to me that struggle to grasp the topics in Computer Information Systems Management courses. I find a lot of joy in being able to help students see why I am so passionate about information systems and help them gain a deeper understanding of the topics.

Q. How did it feel to take on the responsibilities of GTA?

A. From the time I was 15, I continuously held a job, so taking on different responsibilities does not overwhelm me. Instead, I gain pride in knowing that I am fulfilling my given role while furthering my knowledge through new experiences.

Q. What are the challenges?

A. Sometimes students think that because I am also a student, I will let them get away with things a professor would not allow. For example, during tests, I have found students attempting to use their phones more often when it’s just me in the room versus when a professor is also present.

Q. What strategies/tactics do you use to overcome or mitigate the challenges?

A. I have found that explaining and setting down the ground rules before the beginning of a test or assignment helps lower the number of incidents involving inappropriate behavior. I have learned to start tests by letting students know that using phones and looking at other papers are cheating and forms of academic dishonesty. The students in the class know that if I catch them cheating, I will inform the professor. Since it is the professor’s classroom and not mine, the dishonest student’s fate will be determined by my supervisor—and that’s very serious.

Q. What did you learn between when you started as a GTA and now?

A. I have learned to say “yes” more. As a GTA, I have been given several opportunities to volunteer or work different events on campus. In the beginning, I didn’t always jump at the idea due to my hectic schedule. Each time I said “yes,” I gained valuable knowledge and the opportunity to network, both of which were invaluable experiences for me.

Q. How do you balance your own priorities as a graduate student with GTA responsibilities?

A. I learned at an early age to make every second count. My supervisor allows me to work on homework whenever I have downtime, which helps since I have a hectic schedule. In addition to working as a teaching assistant, I have a second job in IT at a local company. I schedule out everything I need to do each week, including study and homework time. Scheduling has taught me discipline, a vital skill I need for current and future success.

Q. What tips would you give to new GTA’s?

A. Utilize your time properly; if you are not busy, or have a break between tasks, ask your supervisor if it would be okay to work on your homework. In my experience, most have not minded. Using my “down time” productively has enabled me to get a jump-start on projects. Spare time is precious when you have a busy schedule.

Q. Do you have any final thoughts that you want others to know?

A. If you are considering a GTA position, I highly encourage you to go for it. Working as a graduate teaching assistant empowered me to grow, learn, and so much more. Being a GTA is far more than a job, it is an entire experience that I would have regretted missing!



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