Developing Your Leadership Skills as a TA
To be candid, I didn’t initially associate being a teaching assistant with leadership. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day responsibilities that you overlook the considerable leadership skills you’d building and demonstrating as a TA. If you think this way, though, I encourage you to reframe your teaching assistantship as a leadership role. While your focus may be on student learning, there is also enormous opportunity to develop your leadership skills while serving as a TA. Whether you’re planning a career in academia or industry, you’ll surely put the skills you’re honing as a TA to use in the future. After all, shouldn’t a good leader be able to communicate both basic and complex concepts, have strong organizational skills, and be adept at managing people?
A good first step when developing leadership skills as a TA is to take an inventory of what this role entails. Are you planning lectures? Then you’re building skills in communicating information to an audience with diverse backgrounds and expertise. Do you work with the course instructor or another TA? You’re collaborating, which shows that you know how to assist and support others working toward a shared goal. Are you balancing grading assignments with your own coursework or research? Then you know how to structure and prioritize tasks. Compare your list of TA responsibilities with the qualities you admire in an effective leader. Do you notice a lot of overlap?
If you’re looking to further develop your skills, you might think about how you can have a greater impact as a TA. Opportunities won’t necessarily be offered to you, so be proactive when you can. For instance, is there a topic you feel passionate about? Reach out to the course instructor and offer to give a guest lecture. Over the course of the semester, you’ll likely develop insight into what students are most interested in, and maybe there’s a fun spin you could put on your talk. One of my favorite TA experiences was giving a guest lecture on “The Epidemiology of the Zombie Apocalypse.” Public health and zombies? Yes, please!
You can also develop your leadership skills by mentoring students. Has an undergraduate student shown promising research skills and interest in your work? You might consider bringing them on as a research assistant in data collection for your thesis/dissertation or being a mentor for their own research project through Magellan funding. I’ve done the latter with students, and it’s been a valuable learning experience for both the students and me. Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal, though. Have any of your students expressed interest in pursuing graduate studies? Walk them through your day as a graduate student and share your research with them. Try hanging around a few minutes after class to let students ask you questions and get to know you better. They may start by asking about an assignment, but you might find yourself discussing your latest paper or presentation, too.
As previous Leadership Week blogs have pointed out, leadership is more about your contributions than your title. By thinking about the skills you use as a TA and how you can take more initiative in this role, you can further develop this important skill set.
Jennifer Mandelbaum, a recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, is a third-year Presidential Fellow and PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior. She also serves as president of the Graduate Student Association and encourages students to connect with the GSA on Twitter (@USCGSA), Facebook (facebook.com/uscgsa), and Instagram (@USC_GSA).
This blog is part of a joint effort between the Graduate School and the Graduate Student Association at the University of South Carolina to promote our graduate student leaders during Carolina Leadership Week 2019.
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu