Tips From a TA for Students

Inam

Hi

I didn't have much time this week to do research for a topic, so I thought I'd get some of my thoughts out regarding what I've learned as a grader at the Ohio State University that I'm going to incorporate as a student. This will also be proofread by some other grader friends of mine (some from other schools) to ensure that the tips are broadly applicable, hopefully some of these will be of use to y'all.

  1. Go to office hours, and go early — Especially for any online classes, going to office hours just once will be super useful for the rest of the semester. More than half of my students never came to office hours. Going in humanizes you and makes me way more empathetic towards you, even if you don't turn your camera on. Go once early, reap the benefits of empathy for the rest of the class.
  2. Befriend your TAs/instructor/grader — This one is pretty simple, don't just go and ask the bare minimum to answer a question. Your TAs/Instructors/graders have at least a passing interest in the subject, prod them and see what interests them, and talk to them! This is also a good way to build connections that will be useful later.
  3. Okay but don't go to every office hour unless you need to — going to an office hour here and there is great, but if you're going to every single one you should either be building rapport with your TA/instructor/grader or have good questions. No one gets frustrated at someone with good questions, but it's easy to get frustrated at someone who is asking bad questions*, which leads us to point four:
  4. Learn how to ask good questions (and good communication generally) — There is such a thing as a bad question. Or, well, at least there is such a thing as a badly communicated question. There are plenty of resources on asking questions well, but in summary: put a real concentrated effort to solving the problem beforehand, make your question as specific as possible (I hate it when people go "I'm confused", like now I'm confused about your confusion, what do you want from me), and once you ask let the TA/instructor answer without interrupting too much. If you communicate questions well, your TAs/instructors will love talking to you and answering your questions.
  5. No one cares about your late assignments/grades — Okay like, maybe in a smaller class your instructor would care but for the most part your grades will not dictate how your instructors think about you. One of my students at my last office hour said "See? I finally finished a project on time, haha" in a somewhat self-deprecating manner. She assumed that I had 1) been keeping track and 2) thought less of her because she was submitting projects late. In reality I was only vaguely aware (which is partly a testament to my inattentiveness to be honest) and really didn't care. Again, good communication skills are paramount.**

Notes

* People that have anxiety around asking questions always ask good questions. It is hard to balance the messaging of "you should ask for help" and "there are bad questions," which is why I want to emphasize that badly communicated questions are far more common than bad questions, and are more frustrating to deal with.

** What I mean by good social skills is not "be outgoing, confident, and smooth-talking", being charismatic is cool and all, but people have very narrow definitions of "good social skills." Sadly, I'm not able to thoroughly define "good social skills," but I think a good framework is "would I annoy myself?"