Why graduate students should teach

Adapted from Marilla Svinicki (1995). A Dozen Reasons Why We Should Prepare Graduate Students to Teach Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development 3 (1): 5-8)

Benefits for the Graduate Student

The skills you learn as a teacher are transferable skills because they will help you in other academic and professional tasks.

  • Time management and multi-tasking:  Assignments need to be graded, e-mails need to be answered, and lessons need to be planned and prepared. These teaching duties take time away from your research and your classes, yet you are expected to do them all well.
  • Public-speaking:  Teaching will build your self-confidence in giving professional presentations at conferences, committee meetings, and qualifying and exit exams. Even if you do not remain an academic for life, many organizations will expect you to give presentations.
  • Managing people:  You will gain experience in actively monitoring and assessing the progress of your students as they perform classroom activities. Learning to be a good mentor now can help you professionally because many post-secondary degree holders are responsible for the duties of other people.

Benefits for the Department

There are many classes in the department where professors need help in areas such as lecture, discussion and laboratory and you may be responsible for a variety of tasks in each area. Typically, you may have at least three to four more years of experience in the field than your students do and they will benefit from your enthusiasm. You may be responsible for the grades of a small subset (possibly 30-50) of students in the major. Undergraduates in smaller classes taught by graduate students will have more personal interactions with people actively working in the field.

Benefits for the University

Students at a very large university can feel overwhelmed or lost as they become “little fish in a big pond.” As a graduate student teaching generally smaller classes, you are an important contact point for your students; they look up to you and you can make the university community feel smaller and more intimate. Also, students will tend to be more engaged in their coursework if they believe someone is interested in their performance—positive interactions with you can greatly improve their overall satisfaction.