Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From the Desk of the T.A. - Episode 1

A friend of mine, who knows about the blog and has also suffered from periods of PhD Depression, has offered to guest post some comic relief for me in two weekly columns: "From the Desk of the TA" (FDTA) and "Weekend Wisdom". Said friend is a hilarious writer and kick ass T.A., so I happily agreed. Starting today, FDTA will be posted on Wednesdays to document the trials and tribulations of the overworked and undervalued T.A. On Fridays, "Weekend Wisdom" will hopefully send you into the weekend with something to laugh at.

So without further ado, the first episode of FDTA...

Teaching Assistant.

There are some PhD students who hear that, and something happens to them. Strange and terrible things. If you are a PhD student who has never been a TA, it may be extremely difficult to recognize these symptoms. You will witness irrational behavior and wonder what has happened. Never fear. I'm here to give you some tips for recognizing if your colleague has been afflicted with TAS, or Teaching Assistant Syndrome.

1) Does your normally mild mannered colleague turn into an Incredible Hulk of rage and anger shortly after a class homework is due? Do you see an unusual number of objects being thrown, kicked, or kicked and thrown in some order?

2) Have you ever heard your advisor discussing adding an essay question to his exam, and one of your colleagues fainted/blacked out?

3) Do you sometimes notice him catatonically staring at a stack of papers, hoping it will do something? Does he ever take a break from staring to quietly sob?

4) Do you hear your colleague muttering to himself things like, 'How could they not understand this?' or 'How could I explain it any more clearly?' Has general self-muttering increased?

5) Does he ever ask you for your opinion on how much you think a scuba instructor in Hawaii makes, and how quickly he could get his license and move there?

If so, your colleague is probably a TA. You may be tempted to go up to him and give him some words of encouragement during his trying times. DO NOT DO THIS. When he is approached by someone in this state, he will assume a series of questions is about to be asked, and most likely flee or scream or something worse. It's best to keep your distance, and never bring up the subject in front of him.

I'll try to pass along some advice, or at least comiserating stories for your associate in the coming weeks. While approaching him directly is right out, maybe you can print out a copy of any tips I might have, and leave them on his desk when he is gone (although there is a good chance he will react badly to any paper he discovers, assuming it's an exam or homework). Good luck with your colleague, and remember, someday you'll probably be a TA too.