TA Policy - Teaching Assistant Policy

The Department of Biological Sciences views teaching as an integral part of graduate education. For this reason, graduate students are required to teach at least one semester before obtaining their degree. Most first year graduate students are supported for the first two semesters without a teaching commitment. In general, students in the Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology Program (MCDB) program are then supported by their advisor during the summer, and begin teaching the Fall Term of their second year or later. Students in the Ecology and Evolution Program (EE) often begin teaching either at the Pymatuning Field Station or the Oakland Campus during their first Summer Term in the graduate program.

The University of Pittsburgh has a Policy Statement for Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, and Graduate Student Assistants-http://www.pitt.edu/~graduate/TATFGSAPolicyStatement.pdf. This document covers additional policies specific to the Department of Biological Sciences.

I. Training, Supervision, and Evaluation of Teaching Assistants in the Department of Biological Sciences

TA Training Program

Graduate students participate in TA Training Programs organized at both the departmental and university levels:

Departmental Orientation for Teaching Assistants - The Department of Biological Sciences’ orientation for teaching assistants is held at the beginning of the Fall Term. All new TAs in the Department are required to attend, regardless of whether they have taught at another institution. The orientation is run by the TA Coordinator with assistance from the TA Oversight Committee. The orientation is typically scheduled the Thursday before classes start.

Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education (CIDDE) New TA Orientation - At the beginning of the Fall Term, CIDDE sponsors a New TA Orientation (NTAO). All graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences who are teaching at the University of Pittsburgh for the first time are required to attend. The orientation is typically scheduled the Friday before classes start with a make up session available at the beginning of the Spring Term.


Each faculty member to whom a TA is assigned will be asked to provide at the outset a description of the duties expected of the TA in the assigned course. This includes office hour policy, lecture attendance, grading participation, special considerations (for example, preparation of materials for laboratory course), and required TA/faculty supervisor meetings. Copies of these duty lists are kept on file by the TA Coordinator. A sample form is in the Appendix.


Each supervising faculty member will observe the TA(s) conducting a recitation or lab before the middle of the term and will fill out an evaluation form that will be forwarded to the TA Coordinator. A sample form is in the Appendix. If the faculty supervisor rates the TA’s overall performance satisfactorily, the student will be informed. In cases where the performance is unsatisfactory, the supervising faculty member and the TA Coordinator will inform the TA of the results and offer suggestions and resources to assist them in improving their teaching. At a later date in the term, to allow sufficient time for the TA to improve, a member of the TA Oversight Committee and the supervising faculty member will observe the TA and evaluate the instruction. This observation will be unannounced. If the TA is evaluated favorably, the TA will be informed of the result of the evaluation and a TA Oversight Committee member may or may not attend a third class. If the performance is unsatisfactory for the second time, the TA will be informed of the result and given additional suggestions for improvement. In this case, the same member of the TA Oversight Committee will perform a third evaluation.

All evaluation forms and any additional descriptions of their teaching will be inserted into the graduate student’s teaching file. This file will be maintained in the TA Coordinator's office. The evaluations will be used by the TA Oversight Committee to determine whether or not the student has satisfactorily completed the term of teaching. All Ph.D. students are required to complete one term of teaching with a satisfactory performance.

Furthermore, all teaching assistants must have student evaluations of their teaching performed by Office of Measurement and Evaluation. The quantitative analysis of the evaluations is forwarded to the TA Coordinator and aggregated results are reported to the Dean’s office as part of the Graduate Program Assessment.

Teaching Assistants are advised to maintain a teaching portfolio. The guidelines for preparing a teaching portfolio will be distributed to graduate students prior to the start of their first term of teaching. Students may request copies of the material in the TA Coordinator’s files, if desired, for the portfolio.

II. Departmental Policies on Academic Integrity and Affirmative Action

A Teaching Assistant who encounters a situation involving any one of the issues listed below should, when appropriate, first contact the faculty member supervising the course. If the situation cannot be resolved at this level, the TA should then address his or her concerns to the TA Coordinator or a member of the TA Oversight Committee. This committee will provide a mechanism for addressing the issue internally. In each case, the approach will directly follow the policies outlined by the University of Pittsburgh. This committee will also facilitate communication between the Department and appropriate University offices in situations where the conflict cannot or should not be resolved internally.

Cheating and Plagiarism

Any Teaching Assistant who observes a student violating any of the student obligations as outlined in the University of Pittsburgh School of Arts and Sciences Academic Integrity Code (http://www.as.pitt.edu/faculty/policy/integrity.html) should immediately contact the faculty supervisor.

Racism, Sexism and Sexual Harassment

All students must have completed the University’s online course on the prevention of sexual harassment in the first year and prior to teaching for the first time (http://training.newmedialearning.com/psh/pitt/). The university policy on sexual harassment is located at http://www.bc.pitt.edu/policies/policy/07/07-06-04.html and the policy on nondiscrimination, equal opportunity, and affirmative action is located at http://www.bc.pitt.edu/policies/policy/07/07-01-03.html.

III. Departmental Guidelines for Teaching Assistants

Types of Assignments

In the Department of Biological Sciences, Teaching Assistants are assigned to laboratory sections, recitation sections, and as graders/facilitators for large lecture courses. Lecture courses are taught by faculty members and lab courses are taught and/or coordinated by faculty members who in turn supervise the Teaching Assistants. The Department of Biological Sciences does not typically assign any Teaching Assistants as independent instructors.

Requests for Assignments and Notification

A letter is distributed by e-mail to faculty members asking graduate student advisors to notify the TA Coordinator if any of their students would like teaching support in the academic year (request made the previous summer) or the summer (request made in February). The TA Coordinator then sends the students a list of courses that need TAs, and students may indicate preferences. The TA Coordinator, consulting as necessary with the TA Oversight Committee, GPOC, the Chair, or other faculty, then finalizes teaching assignments one to three months prior to the appointment. Teaching Assistants receive letters stating their assignment, the faculty supervisor, the length of the appointment, general duties, and stipend. A sample TA Assignment letter is in the Appendix.

Teaching Fellows vs. Teaching Assistants

Students may be assigned as Teaching Fellows (TFs) rather than as Teaching Assistants (TAs) if they have successfully taught for at least one semester. TFs receive a higher stipend than TAs, which is closer to the Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) stipend. All other regulations are the same.

Number of Terms of Support

Currently there is no limit to the number of terms a graduate student may receive a teaching assistantship while actively pursuing a graduate degree. All students are required to teach at least one term, while students in the Teaching Minor Program are required to teach at least two terms. Every effort is made to accommodate graduate students in need of support, however students are expected to be within the Department’s normative time-to-degree. In addition, the Department cannot guarantee support for a student whose mentor’s primary appointment is outside the Department of Biological Sciences.

Who to Contact in the Event of a Problem

In cases of TA/student or TA/faculty supervisor problems, the TA should attempt, when appropriate, to discuss the issue with the supervising faculty member. If the issue is not resolved or cannot be discussed at this level, the TA and/or Instructor may present their concerns to the TA Coordinator or TA Oversight Committee. If the issue is not resolved at this level, the issue should be brought to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Program Oversight Committee.

Departmental and University Resources

Policy resources for TAs include this Departmental Teaching Assistant Policy Statement and the University of Pittsburgh Policy Statement for Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, and Graduate Student Assistants (http://www.pitt.edu/%7egraduate/TATFGSAPolicyStatement.pdf).

Teaching resources include The Teaching Assistant Experience: A Handbook for Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh prepared by CIDDE (http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/TA-Handbook.pdf) and CIDDE TA Services (http://www.cidde.pitt.edu/teaching-support/ta-services/).

Additional departmental resources include a list of courses offered in the Department of Biological Sciences that have been assigned TAs recently and TA Duty Sheets.