Teaching is an important part of graduate professional preparation, and for this reason the Biology Graduate Group requires every graduate student to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a minimum of two semesters. This requirement must be fulfilled by working in courses that provide experience in classroom or laboratory teaching rather than in courses that simply require paper grading, lab preparation, or other non-classroom duties. The teaching requirement applies to all students, including any who may have outside support, thus not supported by Teaching Assistantship funds.
The Biology Graduate Group assists graduate students in developing their skills as good teachers through training sessions, faculty mentoring, and evaluations of teaching performance. Students can also seek teaching advice and assistance from Penn's Center for Teaching and Learning. The Center also offers an optional Teaching Certificate that is noted on the Graduate Transcript.
Students who have teaching assignments must be available at least one week prior to the beginning of each semester for preparation meetings. TA contracts, with course related duties listed, are given to the students approximately two weeks before the start of classes.
At the end of each semester, instructors and/or lab coordinators evaluate the teaching performance of each TA. Evaluation forms for both lab and non-lab courses can be found at the Forms web page. In addition, the undergraduate students in each class/lab also complete an evaluation form. Graduate students serving as TAs can review these evaluations with the lab coordinator and/or faculty member in order to discuss improvement techniques.
Teaching Assistants who receive high evaluations from both faculty and students are considered for nomination to the various Teaching Awards offered by the University.
Graduate students supported on Teaching Fellowships and working as TAs are expected to perform all duties of their job in an outstanding and professional manner. Given the teaching support provided to the Biology Department teaching assistants, it is expected to be unusual for a TA to do an unsatisfactory job at teaching. In such rare cases, responses to unsatisfactory teaching will proceed according to the following sequence:
- Verbal warning from Head TA and/or Lab Coordinator
- Written warning from the Professor and/or the Graduate Chair. This letter will be placed in the student’s file.
- Second written warning with possible loss of Teaching Fellowship funding if performance continues to be unsatisfactory. Again, this letter will be placed in the student’s file.
- Loss of Teaching Fellowship funding for the following semester
- Probation from the program due to unsatisfactory academic performance.
Teaching Assistant Policies
Advanced students who are being funded through Teaching Fellowships have the option of working double duty in one semester in order to do fieldwork during the following semester. However, to qualify for this option, the student must have passed the candidacy exam and be on dissertation status. To request this arrangement, the student must notify the department coordinator at least one month prior to the start of the semester. Every effort will be made to fulfill this request. Students may work as a teaching assistant or grader for extra compensation when such openings occur. To do so, students must have fulfilled the teaching requirement and have the permission of their advisor and the Graduate Chair. Please provide request to department coordinator in advance. Please note that appointments of all students supported by Teaching Fellowships must be done prior to the assignment of positions to those wishing extra compensation.