General Information/Frequently Asked Questions

Can I TA for Independent Study Credit

As of Spring 2013, all TA positions are paid. This, however, does not suggest that the opportunity to study computer science pedagogy under the supervision of a faculty member is no longer available. 15-539: Independent Study in Computer Science Pedagogy, remains an active class.

If you would like to enroll in 15-539, the process is the same as for any other independent study. Think a little bit about what you'd like to do and propose it to faculty members you think might be interested in supervising your work. Refine the proposal with them, get their approval, complete the paperwork, and submit it to the department for final approval.

You can not get independent study credit for your work as a TA, nor can you do an independent study in lieu of pay. But, if your proposed independent study requires that you interact with students, assignments, labs, etc, this remains possible. You just need to propose it -- and have it approved.

But, please plan ahead. It can take significant time to get approval. For example, if your independent study will involve research with students and/or their work, as compared to, for example, developing lab materials, your work may require approval of the "Institutional Research Board (IRB)". Should this be required, it involves a fairly significant proposal and may require that you and/or your instructor take a course in the protocols associated with human-subject research.

When Will TAs Be Assigned?

We're going to give everyone a couple of weeks to fill out the form to indicate their interests, then the faculty will have the opportunity to review the forms. As the faculty provide feedback, or indicate that they do not have any, the Coordinator will begin making assignments. As tentative assignments are made, everyone involved will be notified via email. We expect to have the overwhelming majority of positions filled by the very, very end of the final exams period, and all positions filled well ahead of the start of classes. If you are interested in TAing for 15-110, 15-112, 15-121, 15-131, 15-221 or 15-239, please apply online -- but it is imperative that you also contact the instructor directly.

I've Been Promised A TA Position Already, Do I Need To Fill Out The Form?

Yes, please. If you understand that a faculty member promised you a TAship, that is probably a very strong indication, but not a guarantee, that you'll get it. But, the information still needs to get into the system in order for you to get paid/credit and for the assignment to be made official. By filling out the on-line form, even if you've already been selected, you streamline all of the paperwork and reduce the likelihood that you or anyone else will end up having to spend time chasing down forms.

Although 15-110, 15-112, 15-121, 15-131, 15-221 and 15-239 instructors do their own hiring, you still need to fill out the form so that you can get ITA screened, into the payroll system, etc. It is suggested that, if interested in a 15-110 or 15-112 position that you apply on-line and then contact the instructor directly. This gets the paperwork out of the way and makes your application accessible to them, if they want it.

Am I(/Will I be) a CA or TA?

Your pay rate or ability to satisfy program requirements depends upon the nature of the course. Whether you are called a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Course Assistant (CA) is a decision the instructor makes. Some instructors prefer one name over another, others use them to distinguish roles played by different members of the course staff, and some may let the assistant or team as a whole choose.

What Course Should I TA the First Time?

This is entirely up to your interests and goals. You don't need to start with low courses and work your way up. In fact, you might want to consider starting with a course without a recitation. Then, TAing one with a recitation the second time. This way, you get the experience of teaching students, before you find yourself alone in front of a classroom full of them. Another consideration is that some courses have significant infrastructure that is under constant development and improvement. Undergraduates have sometimes been able to make huge and lasting impact by TAing these courses multiple times and by taking un significant development work. 15-410 and 15-213 are tow of many examples.

I am a CSD Doctoral Student, Which Courses Can I TA To Fill My Requirement?

You need to teach for two semesters, one of which can be as a TA for any CS course, and another of which needs to be as a recitation leader, instructor, or co-instructor for a CS course. To ensure a broad experience, you can not satisfy the requirement by doing the same course more than once.

Although you can TA 15-1xx courses for credit, there is a bit of a hurdle. Your advisor will need to agree to let you TA the course without being significantly reimbursed for your effort by the Undergraduate Program. The Undergraduate Program is unable to pay more than the hourly rate for these courses. At present, 15-121 and 15-131 are not eligible for TA creidt for Doctoral students, as 15-131 is only 2 units and 15-121 is a small service course.

I am a CSD Doctoral Student, Can I TA a Course for HCI, MLD, LTI, RI, CB, ISR, or Another Unit Within CSD?

Technically speaking, non-CSD courses are not automatically approved -- but we give approval very liberally. We want to be good SCS citizens. But, you still do need to ask and receive permission.

In general, we don't question the value of the experience of TAing within SCS, but outside of CSD. We just need to make sure we can cover our own course schedule. But, we work really hard to make this happen. And, make it happen most times we get timely requests.

What we'll do is, upon receiving your request, add the non-CSD course to our pick-list, so you can select it online. Then, we'll ask the instructor or departmental TA coordinator to request you online or via email. Then, if at all possible, we'll assign you to the class as part of our normal assignment process.

I am a CSD Doctoral Student, Can I TA a Course for ECE?

Unfortuntely, ECE is refusing to reciprocate with us. We'd like to enable CSD students to be able to get credit for TAing ECE courses and for ECE students to be able to get credit for TAing CSD courses. But, sadly, ECE is not, at present, intersted in permitting this. We would welcome ECE permitting reciprocation in the future, but until that happens CSD students can't get credit for TAing ECE courses.

Can I TA the Same Course More Than Once?

Doctoral students are required to teach twice. The best educational value is for these to be different experiences -- so Doctoral students are usually not assigned to TA the same course more than once. Of course, Doctoral students are welcome to teach more than the required two times -- in which case, all of the options are options.

Those who are not TAing to satisfy a particular requirement are able to TA the same course multiple times. In fact, many TAs have had lasting impacts upon courses by TAing them for many semesters, and leading major development efforts.

Who Makes TA Assignments?

For the 15-110, 112, 121, 131, 221, and 239 courses, assignments are made exclusively by the instructors. The TA Coordinator only maintains the list for administrative purposes, handles ITA paperwork and other reporting, and, at the request of the instructor, will help out with recruiting. If you are interested in applying for one of these positions, you should fill out the application on-line -- but to maximize your chances of being hired, you should also contact the instructor directly. Sometimes opportunities in these classes are all taken before instructors turn to the applications on-line to find students that haven't turned up.

For other courses, the TA assignments are made by the Coordinator. But, in practice, most assignments are mutual matches between those seeking TA positions and the faculty. Please fill out the on-line form with as much helpful information as possible.

If you know the instructor, such as from taking a class or doing research, please also contact the instructor. If you can get one of your instructors or supervisors who knows the instructor to introduce and recommend you, that is a good way to start a conversation, too. Most faculty members prefer to be contacted via email.

Only in rare circumstances will a TA who requests a course, and who is requested by the faculty member for that course, not be assigned to the course. This can sometimes happen in courses where there is significant infrastructure, or otherwise a strong need for continuity and stability on the course staff over time, across instructor teams. It can also happen if there is a compelling need in another course or some reason, of which the instructor or candidate is unaware, that causes the match to be a poor fit.

Please know that some faculty may not be able or interested in chatting with TA candidates. For example, some faculty members may be returning from leaves, tied up with other activities, teach very, large classes with large course staffs, or just prefer to let the Coordinator manage the process. If you try to contact a faculty member and do not hear back, please do not become a menace -- please, instead, contact the Coordinator, for guidance.

Do I Have To Be a CS Student?

Not necessarily. Many of our TAs are undergraduates with other majors. Occasionally, we have TAs who come from related (or even unrelated) Master's or Doctoral programs. Our primary concern isn't your major or department -- it is your expertise in the needed areas and your ability and desire to teach.

I am a Master's Student, Can I TA?

Many Master's programs place limits on the ability of their students to work while in their programs, this often includes TA positions. This is especially true during the first semester and/or first year. For example, the MS in CS program does not permit first year students to TA.

We will check with your program to ensure that you are permitted to work as a TA before hiring you as one. Please do not apply if your program will not permit it. Check with them first.

Please also know that we do not offer TAs tuition assistance. Please see below for information about TA pay.

Can International Students TA? Are There Special Requirements?

Many, many international students TA -- even for pay. For more information about getting a paying job as an international student, please contact the Student Affairs Office of International Education, or check out their information about employment options for International Students.

International students need to pass a test for English proficiency. You can find out more about it from the Intercultural Communication Center (ICC).

What Courses Need TAs?

Check out the TA Application/Request form, under the "Preferences" section. The pull-downs contain the list of courses. In addition, 15-110 or 15-112 may need TAs -- please contact the instructor.

How Many Hours a Week Am I Expected To Work?

During the regular semester, SCS practice is generally to limit paid TAs to 20 hours per week. For most paid TA positions, 20 hours per week is also the expectation. But, for 15-110, 15-112, 15-121, and 15-131 you should contact the instructor, because they sometimes do hire TAs with the expectation of, or flexibility for, fewer hours.

During the summer, students who are not enrolled in courses, may be permitted to work additional hours -- but never to work overtime. Please discuss the time expectations with the supervising instructor.

Can I TA Multiple Courses?

Almost never. But, sometimes.

Occasionally students nearing graduation, who have very light course loads, or who have recently graduated and have no course load, are permitted to do this. In even rarer cases, it might also be permitted for other reasons. But, in any case, it is very rare. In most cases, it is best for both the students and the courses to avoid this type of likely over-commitment.

Can I have Another Job While TAing?

Absolutely not -- unless you tell the hiring instructor or coordinator to whom you applied for the job, as part of your application for the job, or otherwise get their explicit permission.

Certain jobs related to student activities, notably paid AB positions, such as with AB Tech, aren't really counted as jobs -- we consider them to be more like student activities. But, if they are major time commitments -- then you do need to discuss them, in advance, with whoever hired/is hiring you.

The University does not authorized overtime for any student position or positions, so, even if you are approved to work multiple jobs -- you will not be able to work enough to earn overtime when all of your CMU hours are added up.

I Just Graduated (Or, Voluntarily Took A Break), Can I Still TA?

Under University policy, you remain eligible for student employment for four calender months after graduating. This includes TA positions.

Note that this is four calender months, not "Months of eligibility" as one might spend on a sports team. The clock runs, whether you use it or not, whether you work full-time or part-time, etc. The only way to reset the clock is to complete a semester as a full-time student in a degree program.

I Am A Part-Time Student, Can I Still TA?

In general, no. TA positions, like other student positions, are reserved for full-time students. If you have recently completed a full-time semester within a degree program, you can TA for up to four months past the last day of that full-time semester.

Can I Quit TAing Mid-Semester?

Yes. Employment as a TA is at will. TAing to satisfy program requirements is an educational, not an indentured activity.

But, before you consider quitting mid-semester, you should know that you were not expected to do this. You will likely be abandoning your students and colleagues. People are unlikely to be pleased. This might mean that they are less likely to offer you a good recommendation, review, or grade for your work. Please talk to the Coordinator before you consider doing this.

Having said this, there are times when it does make sense to stop TAing mid-semester. This is an educational envioronment -- and TAing is an educational position, even when paid. If ending a TA position early is the Right Thing to do, you are likely to find everyone very understanding. As a student, your well-being is very important to everyone involved.

You Didn't Ask My Year or Program on the Application?

Nope. It is in the system. If you fill out the form, we do an LDAP query for the basics and review your academic records for any details we need from there.

How Much Does TAing Pay?

One of the most common questions is, "How Much Does TAing pay?" SCS Doctoral students who TA do it as part of the program. They are paid a stipend to support them during the program -- including the time spent TAing. Just as TAing is an educational experience for Doctoral students, it is an educational experience for undergraduate and Master's students, some of whom want to TA for course credit. This is possible -- but University policy does not allow the position to be constructed such that one can get course credit and also get paid.

The present rate of pay depends upon the details of the student's situation and the position, as follows: