Every full-time graduate student in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization (C&O) is normally required to hold one teaching assistant (TA) position each term, which entails up to five hours of work each week on average.
Each term, the graduate coordinator first collects information from all current graduate students about their preferences for TA positions for the following term. The students are provided the list of the courses that require TA support. The courses include those being offered by C&O, the Mathematics Undergraduate Office (MUO), and the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC). The students are asked to list their top three choices of courses for which they wish to serve as TAs, in order of preference.
The students are encouraged to refer to these resources in indicating their preferences.
At the same time as soliciting TA preferences, the graduate coordinator asks students if they will not be available for a TA position the following term, for example, because they may be graduating, or taking up an off-campus internship, etc. Faculty members are also polled to check if they wish to buy out their students' TA positions, or if their students plan to complete their degree, etc. In addition, faculty members may indicate preferences for TAs.
Second, the graduate coordinator compiles a list of C&O courses along with the estimated number of TAs needed for each course. The department also receives estimates of C&O TAs needed for Math and CEMC courses. Finally, the graduate officer assigns the students to courses. In making the assignment, the graduate officer takes several considerations into account, including:
- the courses requiring TA support,
- the preliminary enrollment and projected class size,
- the instructors' preferences,
- the students' past experience and performance as a TA,
- the students' background (e.g., courses taken),
- the students' preferences, and
- the students' area of research.
Some courses may be more popular than others amongst TAs. The TA needs of the department and the faculty, and the suitability of the course personnel are the primary considerations guiding the assignment. While the graduate officer takes the preferences into consideration, due to the above factors, it may not always be possible to accommodate all preferences in the assignment. Similarly, it may not always be possible to allow a buy-out or an opt-out of a TA position.
Slight changes to the TA assignment may be made at the beginning of the term, based on actual enrolment numbers, or due to unforeseen circumstances. Due to increased demand, extra TA positions may be offered to students on a voluntary basis, and are subject to approval of the student’s research supervisor(s).
TA duties may include:
- holding office hours,
- answering questions on an online discussion board,
- holding tutorial sessions,
- grading assignments and exams,
- proctoring exams, possibly also as pool proctors for other courses, and
- assisting the instructors with other aspects of course delivery.
Courses may be structured differently, and are likely to involve these and possibly other components in different proportions. Specific TA duties are assigned separately by the instructors before the courses begin, but the duties may need adjustment as the term progresses.
Students are encouraged to read the Teaching Assistant Manual. The manual provides comprehensive information to guide students in their role as TAs in the Faculty of Mathematics.
UW Policy 30 governs the employment of graduate TAs. Students are encouraged to read Policy 30 to understand their rights and responsibilities as TAs. Most notably the policy requires for every TA-ship, both a letter of appointment and a graduate teaching assistant agreement. The letter of appointment is a contract between a student and the University of Waterloo. The student needs to approve the contract in order to be assigned their TA position. The process isas follows:
- an email is sent to the student's UW address with a link to their contract,
- the student clicks on the link and authenticates themselves using their WatIAM credentials,
- the student reads the contract and then accepts or declines the contract using the menu.
Consistent with Policy 30 rules, if a student fails to respond within the time limits set by the offering unit they will be considered to have declined the appointment. If they decline a TA position this may negatively affect their funding, and they are encouraged to contact the graduate officer.
The goal of the graduate teaching assistant (GTA) agreement is to clearly define expectations of all parties in areas including time commitments, contributions to course delivery, and appropriate timeframes for responding to communications. The course instructor will reach out to students individually with the GTA agreement once the TA appointment has been finalized. Students should contact their instructors if they do not receive the agreement by the first day of the term.