The Department of Computer Science strives for excellence in every facet of its responsibilities: in research, in graduate education, and in undergraduate education. Many of our students have a chance to participate as teaching assistants in the department's mission to provide excellent undergraduate education.
This is a summary of important things that TAs need to know early in order to be prepared for this opportunity. TAs and interested students can look at the UBC TA handbook and the CUPE 2278 TA Collective Agreement for much more detailed information about TA rights, expectations, and responsibilities.
The instructor of the course for which the TA is assigned to should, at the beginning of the term, give the TA a description of the TA responsibilities throughout the term. Some graduate TAs are appointed as full-time monthly TAs. For a full-time TA, he or she is expected to work no more than 192 hours (16 weeks × 12 hours per week) per appointed four month term. This is just an estimate, and deviations throughout the term may happen on occasion. It is within the instructor's right to change your assigned duties as the term progresses.
Hourly TAs are also appointed for the full term and can work a maximum of 192 hours. However, they are paid for the number of hours worked and reported.
It is the department’s expectation that no work be conducted on any Statutory Holidays. For a list of Statutory Holidays, please refer to the CUPE 2278 TA Collective Agreement.
Teaching assistantship is a job, and for scheduling purposes TA duties take precedence over all other UBC-related duties, except for regularly scheduled activities (lectures, labs, etc.) for the courses that the TA is taking for credit. Cases of conflict between regularly scheduled TA responsibilities and anything else (lab meetings, meetings with the research supervisor, etc.) must be resolved and agreed to by all parties in a way that will not have a negative effect on the TA's responsibilities.
TAs are appointed for up to 12 hours a week for 16 weeks in each of the two Winter session terms (term 1 runs September 1st through December 31st, term 2 runs January 2nd through April 30th). Even if there are no formal class activities (lectures, labs, tutorials etc.) during a week, a TA is expected to be available. In particular, TAs should ensure that their travel plans allow them to be in Vancouver and ready to work for the entirety of the term (except for the standard vacation period, outlined below). It is worth making particular note that the scheduling of final exams in undergraduate courses is done centrally, fairly late in the term, so the timing of the final exam is not under departmental control. Therefore, a TA should not schedule plans before at least two full days after the end of the exam period without explicit permission from their instructor.
Vacation time allotted for a full-time monthly TA is 8 hours per term, and the 192 hours include these 8 hours.
The standard department vacation period for TAs is from December 24th through January 1st. Any TA who would like to take additional vacation must obtain explicit permission from his or her instructor(s) well in advance, ideally at least one month, and take the responsibility to arrange for a qualified replacement (another TA, for example) to perform their duties while the TA is on vacation.
Conflict of Interest and Tutoring
Pursuant to UBC Policy #97: A TA with an active appointment at any of the Computer Science department's courses may not tutor any student who is enrolled in the course(s) to which the TA is assigned. This policy includes tutorship that is not part of the regular teaching assistant duties, where the TA receives some kind of benefit, financial or otherwise.
For the full departmental policy — including discussion of when extra help is reasonable and who to contact if you have concerns — please see the Conflict of Interest and Tutoring policy (TAs remain responsible for following UBC Policy #97).
Lateness and Absences
If a TA is going to be late or absent from a scheduled activity such as a lab, tutorial, meeting or joint marking session, it is the TA's responsibility to contact the instructor, lead TA, course coordinator, or course staff as soon as possible so that students can be notified or a substitute TA can be arranged. The Collective Agreement allows 12 hours of sick leave per term (or the equivalent for part-time TAs) if the absence is due to sickness. Unused sick leave can be carried forward to next term (to a maximum of 24 hours banked). Please note that these hours include preparatory and grading as well as class time.
The maximum (for hourly TAs) or expectation (for full-time monthly TAs) of work per week does not mean that the TA will work exactly 12 hours in every week. An instructor has the right to assign work that "reasonably" averages to 12 hours per week. "Reasonable" is only loosely defined and in cases where the TA and instructor are unable to resolve a disagreement, it should be worked out with the assistance of the TA Coordinator. Some examples may help calibrate the notion of reasonable:
- It is reasonable to ask a TA to work 16 hours one week and 8 hours the next.
- It is reasonable to ask a TA to work 16 hours per week for 3 weeks and then do no work in the 4th week.
- It is not reasonable to ask a TA to work 36 hours in one week and then do no work for each of the next 2 weeks.
Please try to be accommodating as much as possible, especially at the beginning and the end of the term, when the work largely varies and is much less predictable than during the middle of the term. Note that this section is all about how much time an instructor may ask a TA to work in a given week; there is nothing preventing a TA from choosing to work many more hours in one week than another.
TAs should keep track of the hours that they work each week (what the TA does and how long it takes) and discuss them with the instructor regularly throughout the term. This is a good way to ensure that there is agreement between the TA and the instructor on how long various activities should take.
Overtime is not allowed, as per the CUPE 2278 agreement. Article 14.01c states that except set out at the time of offer, a teaching assistant shall not be required to work more than 24 hours in any given week. All the hours worked in the week are paid at straight time.
TA performance will be formally evaluated at the end of each term by the students that the TA interacts with. These evaluations will be made available to the TA so that he or she can use them to guide their efforts and to improve their skills. These evaluations form the basis for selecting both outstanding TAs (and nominating them for awards) and TAs who are struggling (see the "Inadequate Performance" section below). In addition, the department has procedures for informal evaluation during the term which can provide feedback earlier which can be very helpful in identifying problems and concerns that are preventing the TA from being as effective as possible. These informal evaluations can come at the request of the TA or the Instructor. TAs are encouraged to take advantage of these processes to continually improve their effectiveness.
The department offers training for TAs during the orientation week. This training is mandatory for new TAs and recommended for all TAs. TAs should ensure that their travel plans allow them to be on campus in time. There may be an additional training session after the first informal evaluations have taken place in early October. The time the TA spends in training counts as hours worked as a TA.
TAs who struggle to meet the department's expectations for quality teaching will be offered as much help as possible to improve (extra training, mentoring, etc.). TAs who fail to improve and continue to not meet the department's minimum expectations of quality will not be offered future TA opportunities.
In the case of Graduate Students, if such a student is unable to secure a research assistantship, he or she will receive no funding from the department. The department's guarantee of support is contingent on adequate performance of a student's teaching and research duties.
The department strives to assign TAs to courses for which they have a strong background preparation. Occasionally a TA may be assigned a course that will be a stretch for him or her. The TA should discuss with the instructor how to make the best of this situation (the TA might be asked to attend lectures, given extra preparation time to read the book in advance of the class, etc.).
English is the language of instruction at the University of British Columbia. As such, TAs will be required to conduct labs and/or tutorials in the language of instruction, and to communicate both orally and in writing with the students, the professor, and the other TAs. If a TA is not a native speaker of English, it is the TA’s responsibility to ensure that he or she can communicate concepts clearly and effectively in English. The University provides resources to help TAs with this, and the program coordinator or assistant can also provide TAs with the details of the University's resources and programs.