One of my biggest mistakes as an undergrad was not making the most of one my the most valuable assets available to me: teaching assistants!! Your TA might seem like a lazy senior or grad student who's only goal is to make you miserable, but put in a little effort, and that doesn't have to be the case!
Finals are just a few weeks away. There is still time to get help, or to just supplement your studying in a way that won't require you to pull as many all nighters as you might otherwise.
Follow these tips to make the most of your TAs!!
- Don't be afraid of them. Seriously. They were in your position not too long ago, and understand better than anyone the struggles you're facing.
- Visit their office hours. They're there to help you, and if you don't go, they can't do that. I have heard those anecdotes about TAs on so-called “power trips” whom undergraduates loathe, but this is largely a myth. Most TAs genuinely want students to enjoy what they are studying and excel in class.
- Remember that TAs are usually graduate students, and that means they are students, too! As graduate students, we have a passion for what we study, and the opportunity to impart knowledge to others is what drew many of us into academia in the first place.
- If you're in a large lecture class, ask TAs to clarify a few points that were covered quickly. This gives you something to talk about easily, and you'll get a lot of knowledge you weren't able to receive in such a big hall. This is why we exist!!
- Take a friend! If you're just going for a review or question clarification, take a friend in the class with you. We really won't care. Unless we're discussing your grade or a more personal issues, we're happy to run a small group session rather than 1:1 if you feel too proud, embarrassed, or intimidated.
- Don't think we're going to judge you for your questions. As graduate students, TAs are experts in their fields and can provide you with added understanding.
- Talk to TAs BEFORE you flunk that assignment! If you know the expectations, you're more likely to understand why you got the grade that you did. Visit with TAs before assignments are due, as well as afterwards if you have questions about your grade.
- If you are unsatisfied with your grade, talk with your TA and ask how you can improve your work to make better grades in the future. On a side note, don’t angrily approach your TA and demand an explanation for a grade lower than you expected. This may sound like common sense, but be aware that allowing your emotions to get the best of you only makes matters worse. My personal experience has been that most students are very respectful, even when making disappointing grades. Believe me, no TA wants to get into an awkward argument or shouting match with a student over grades.
- It's best to get to know your TA early on, but don't feel like you cannot ask for help later in the semester, either. TAs are still willing to help, though the impact that they can have will be lessened the longer you wait to meet them.
TAs are there to help you: don't let that go to waste!