Review of TA Employment Finds Three Times as Many TAs in Stern College Compared to Yeshiva College
In the Fall 2017 semester, there were three times as many Teacher’s Assistants (TAs) employed at Stern College for Women as there were at Yeshiva College. There were 45 student TAs across a wide variety of disciplines in SCW, including the sciences, Hebrew, and Studio Art, last semester, while YC employed 15 TAs, mainly in the biology and chemistry departments, according to the Dean’s office.
Sy Syms School of Business employed 8 TAs in the fall, almost entirely on the Wilf campus. Five of the Syms TAs worked for Jewish Engagements courses, while two assisted in Jewish Public Policy, and one TA worked on both the Wilf and Beren campuses in the Executive MBA program.
TAs assist professors in a variety of ways. Some provide logistical support, like taking attendance and setting up lab equipment, while others hold office hours and even grade students’ work.
Dr. Karen Bacon, the Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences, believes strongly in the presence of Teacher’s Assistants for lectures and labs. “I am a firm supporter of Teaching Assistants where justified. They assist the instructor and are able to develop a special rapport with the students in the classes they support. And, of course, the experience that the assistant gets, plus the small stipend, are very valuable.”
According to Talia Edelman, a neuroscience major in Stern currently working as a TA in a lab for cell biology, being a TA involves supporting both the professor and the students. “I enjoy [being a TA] mostly because I can help alleviate some of the panic that students feel in lab.” She continued, “I hope that giving students encouragement during the lab and giving reminders that it's okay if their results aren't perfect can help them to have a positive experience.”
Chayim Rosensweig, a senior in YC majoring in biology, felt similarly. “It was an opportunity to gain more experience and familiarity with the laboratory equipment and methods. And, it was a great way to give back to other students and help them throughout the course.”
Some of the disparity between overall TA numbers can be explained by student enrollment. In the fall, there were 801 students enrolled in SCW and 523 in YC. Since there are more students in SCW, there are more opportunities and courses for there to be TAs.
Dean Bacon explained she believed that the larger number of Stern students registered for labs to accounts for the discrepancy of TA’s between the campuses. She also noted that biology majors at Beren are interested in a wider array of career paths, like genetic counseling and occupational therapy, and that those preferences mean a larger percentage of science students in Stern study biology as opposed to science students in YC. Since biology labs often require a TA, the prevalence of biology courses in SCW accounts in part for the large number of TAs there.
Course offerings and differing needs for students on each campus account for some of the difference as well. For instance, SCW employs 8 TAs for lower level hebrew courses, who support around 110 students on the Beren campus.
The Beren campus’s wider array of major offerings also contributes to the disparity. Last semester there were 4 TAs for Art Studios, a major not offered on the Wilf campus. These TAs assisted around 60 students in various art courses that utilized different mediums.
Stern students not majoring in a science must fulfill a science requirement by taking either introductory biology or chemistry, thereby requiring more TAs to cover a higher number of labs in both biology and chemistry. Last semester, 6 TAs covered biology labs composed of 126 Stern students taking either the pre-health track or introductory biology for non-majors course. Uptown, just 34 YC students took principles of biology in the fall. There is no non-majors biology course offering uptown.
In Fall 2017, there were 250 science majors in both SCW and YC, each, predominantly in biology.
Dean Bacon explained most often it is faculty who request TAs, based on the coursework for a class. “Generally faculty ask for assistants in full science labs so that students can get more immediate help to continue with their experiments without having to wait for the professor to reach them. In some large lecture courses, student assistants cover review sessions and the like.”
Some student TAs report being asked by professors, based on their successful performance in a course, if they would be willing to work as a TA in subsequent offerings of the course. In some cases, students stated they were the ones who took the initiative, asking professors if they could fill TA roles vacated by upperclassmen.
According to Dean Bacon, all requests are formally approved by the Dean’s Office prior to student employment.
TAs might work anywhere between 2-10 hours in a given week, and sometimes more, depending on the amount of class time they are responsible for, if they hold office hours, and time they might spend grading work. Students earn minimum wage for their time, which was recently raised to $13 an hour for New York City employees.
“It was a good way to earn money doing something enjoyable,” said Rosensweig.
Working as a TA can be a big boost to an undergraduate student’s resume, particularly when it come to graduate school applications. When asked if employment as a TA is viewed positively on medical and dental school applications, Wilf Pre-Health Advisor Lolita Wood-Hill was emphatic.
“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” Wood-Hill said. “Health professional schools want students who have the ability to communicate well with patients. Part of that communicating involves having students that can explain things clearly and directly.”
Ms. Wood-Hill went on to add that working as a TA demonstrates a “sense of responsibility” as well as “leadership,” given professors entrust the TA to assist in teaching as well as grading students.
Adira Koppel, a pre-med student in Stern, cited this as a reason for wanting to work as a TA. “I did it because I loved organic chemistry and am applying to medical school, so I figured it would help me keep up, as well look good for my resume.”