What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?

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Updated March 19, 2021

A graduate student pursuing a doctorate level degree is often required to be a teaching assistant in order to meet the requirements for conferment of the degree. As an assistant to a professor at a university, a graduate assistant gains experience in the various tasks that are likely to be a part of a future position as an instructor at a post-secondary institution.

4 Tasks Graduate Students Do As Teacher Assistants

Lesson Planning and Assignment Development

Working closely with a professor, an assistant often will work on the development of the learning materials for a course or courses. Starting with the syllabus, assistants will help a professor develop assignments, quizzes, and exams to meet the objectives of a course, typically set by the administration of a university. This is helpful for gaining experience in understanding the connection between curriculum and objectives for future teaching positions.

In addition to the syllabus and assignments, assistants might also be tasked with presenting lesson plans for lecturing and class activities to help students gain an understanding of the material and successfully complete the assignments and other course requirements. Professors are able to give feedback, and teaching assistants will make adjustments in order to best fulfill the needs of the student, the instructor, and the course overall.


As a part of the process in developing the material for the course, an assistant to a professor is well-equipped to present the material to students in lectures. Lectures at large universities are often given to over a hundred students at a time, or, like at smaller institutions or community colleges, assistants might present lecture material to much smaller classes of 20 or less.

Lecturing requires in-depth knowledge of the material and the texts for the course. Much of the assistant's time is, therefore, likely to be spent preparing for lecturing or presenting material in laboratory portions of courses.

Tutoring and Office Hours

An assistant who is working with an instructor in a teaching role will also be responsible for meeting with students outside of class. During office hours, assistants will answer student questions, tutor in subjects being taught, and handle any student issues or problems.

Assessment and Record Keeping

In addition to these responsibilities, a teaching assistant will also likely be a part of the assessment process. This might require grading tests and quizzes, or providing more detailed feedback on student essays or lab reports. Assessment requires that assistants to be able to highlight positive and negative feedback in order to help students move on to upcoming assignments, prepare for subsequent courses in a sequence, and gain the overall understanding of the subject to be successful toward graduation.

Graduate students are faced with a number of requirements in order to earn a doctorate degree. A teaching assistant is an important part of the education process at a post-secondary institution, both for helping to educate students and for gaining the skills to pursue a position as an instructor after completing a Ph.D. program.

Related Resource: What Does a Research Assistant Do?

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