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Carnegie Mellon Department of Chemistry

Guide to Graduate Studies

Ph.D. Requirements

Graduate Teaching

For students entering Fall 2015 and later

The purpose of this requirement is to help students prepare for teaching and mentoring roles in academia and industry and to contribute to the quality and safety of instruction in the undergraduate program. Excellent performance as a TA can be used to indicate many of the relevant skills for future positions requiring management and communication skills. Through this experience, students can hone a variety of skills relevant to many careers, including:

Note that, in order to develop the widest range of these skills as a TA, non-native speakers of English must have excellent English proficiency, often Pass or Restricted I on the ITA Test, to receive TA appointments in recitation and at least Restricted II for TA appointments in laboratory. Students are also encouraged to hone many of the skills above as part of mentoring undergraduates in research and they should discuss opportunities for this with their advisors (e.g. as part of the Annual Review of Graduate Students).

Expectations

Every student must teach for two semesters as a Teaching Assistant, either as a recitation TA, laboratory TA, or a grader/course assistant. This formal academic requirement is an important part of a graduate education and must be completed to the satisfaction of the instructor for that course. In addition, if a student does not have the opportunity to be a recitation TA or laboratory TA (either due to their funding or qualifications for those TA assignments during the first 1–2 years in residence), he/she will be required to plan and complete by the end of the fourth year in residence one of the following options to further develop teaching and mentoring skills:

In all three versions, students must submit, in consultation with the faculty mentor, a brief plan for the activities they will complete to be approved by the GPC by the first day of the semester in which the work is to be completed and a satisfactory reflective paper (2–3 pages) submitted to the faculty mentor and GPC by the last day of classes about what was accomplished and learned through the experience, attaching key products of the major activities completed. The faculty mentor should meet substantively with the student at least 3 times over the semester, including for initial planning and a mid-semester progress assessment, in order to provide guidance and feedback in accomplishing the plan. Any interested student may also consult with the GPC Co-Chairs about pursuing a similar experience.

Teaching Assistant Duties

After the two-semester requirement is completed, students may continue as a TA as part of their financial support and must continue to maintain satisfactory performance (as described under Financial Support). The details of TA assignments vary by course and students must consult with the course instructor each semester about his/her specific duties and expectations for satisfactory performance

The duties of a Teaching Assistant require approximately 15–20 hours per week. Note that TA duties are one of the primary sources of financial support and that renewal of an appointment as a TA is contingent on satisfactory performance as a Teaching Assistant. Therefore, the expectations below are important for all TAs.

Teaching assistants are expected to fulfill all of the responsibilities of their role in a timely fashion and to make appropriate arrangements with the instructor at least 1–2 weeks in advance if they anticipate any difficulties in doing so. For example, instructors need to be consulted in advance if a TA would like to arrange for someone to teach a class for him or her. Barring unforeseen emergencies, travel arrangements must be made far enough in advance that they do not conflict with TA training and teaching responsibilities.

Training

The Department provides TA training each August specific to the roles of recitation TAs, lab TAs, and course assistants for which attendance is required for the first two semesters in which the student serves in a particular role. Representative topics covered during TA training include:

Note that instructors for TA training, in addition to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Laboratories also serve as ongoing resources when TAs have questions or concerns about their responsibilities.

Outcomes

Instructors determine the expectations for each graduate TA assignment. If a TA appears to be having difficulties meeting these expectations, instructors are expected to provide timely written feedback to let the TA know what type of changes or improvements are needed. The feedback should be sent to the TA and cc’ed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the GPC Co-Chairs. If a student is informed of a significant deficiency, does not address the problem adequately, and cannot document reasonable efforts to improve, that semester will not count toward the two semesters required for the doctoral degree. An additional semester as a TA or an appropriate Independent Study will be required until the graduate teaching requirement is fully satisfied. If no written feedback suggests the need for changes, the TA can interpret that as an indication of satisfactory performance.

Feedback

Recitation and laboratory TAs can typically receive early course feedback from their students to improve their performance during the semester and a formal TA evaluation at the end of the semester that can be used to document their effectiveness for job applications or in nominations for departmental, college or university teaching awards. Instructors also normally provide end-of-course evaluations for their TAs. Where applicable, progress in mentoring undergraduates in research is also assessed by advisors during the Annual Review of Graduate Students.

Further Development

Those who wish to develop specific skills through their additional TA experiences should discuss their goals with both GPC Co-Chairs and the Director of the Undergraduate Program and Laboratories so that a long-term strategy can be developed to assist them. Students who only get the opportunity for serving as a course assistant are strongly encouraged to discuss alternative opportunities for further development of these skills with one of the GPC Co-Chairs.

As part of the Annual Review of Graduate Students, students are encourage to meet 1-1 with one of the GPC Co-Chairs if they are interested in enhancing their skills in this area. For example, students who are seeking careers involving teaching or management should proactively seek feedback on their TA performance from the supervising instructor and the course instructor. For areas of additional experience or training, both the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Department Head can advise on additional opportunities to further develop teaching skills.

For students entering Fall 2014 and earlier

Every student must teach for two semesters as a Teaching Assistant, either as a recitation TA, laboratory TA, or a grader/course assistant. The purpose of this requirement is to help students prepare for teaching and mentoring roles in academia and industry and to contribute to the quality and safety of instruction in the undergraduate program. This formal academic requirement is an important part of a graduate education and must be completed to the satisfaction of the instructor for that course.

The duties of a Teaching Assistant require approximately 15-20 hours per week. Note that TA duties are one of the primary sources of financial support and that renewal of an appointment as a TA is contingent on satisfactory performance as a Teaching Assistant. Therefore, the expectations below are important for all TAs.

Expectations

The Department provides TA training each August specific to the roles of recitation TAs, lab TAs, and graders for which attendance is required for the first two semesters in which the student serves in a particular role. Teaching assistants are expected to fulfill all of the responsibilities of their role in a timely fashion and to make appropriate arrangements with the instructor at least 1-2 weeks in advance if they anticipate any difficulties in doing so. For example, instructors need to be consulted in advance if a TA would like to arrange for someone to teach a class for him or her. Barring unforeseen emergencies, travel arrangements must be made far enough in advance that they do not conflict with TA training and teaching responsibilities.

Outcomes

Instructors determine the expectations for each graduate TA assignment. If a TA appears to be having difficulties meeting these expectations, instructors are expected to provide timely written feedback to let the TA know what type of changes or improvements are needed. The feedback should be sent to the TA, cc'ed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and the GPC Co-Chairs. If a student is informed of a significant deficiency, does not address the problem adequately, and cannot document reasonable efforts to improve, that semester will not count toward the two semesters required for the doctoral degree. An additional semester as a TA or an appropriate Independent Study will be required until the graduate teaching requirement is fully satisfied. If no written feedback suggests the need for changes, the TA can interpret that as an indication of satisfactory performance.