How Much Teaching Will I Do?

Teaching is important. If you are funded as a GSI, you will get plenty of teaching experience (though not so much as to interfere with your normal progress through the program). But even if you are supported on fellowship or grant funds, the Department requires that you do some teaching (at present, this amounts to two semesters of service). You are being trained to be scholars, and teaching is part of the enterprise of scholarship. Therefore, teaching is a critical element in your graduate training, as important as training in research methods. It is training, so avoid thinking of it as employment—even though you are of course paid for your service and are union represented. 

 

Teaching experience is also in your best interest: most academic positions are faculty positions, and most faculty positions involve a serious commitment to teaching and teaching reasonably well. There was a time when many faculty at major research institutions thought that if they were good enough at research, they would not have to teach -- or, at least, that they could "buy off" enough time with grant funds that they would not have to teach undergraduates. Some universities, in an attempt to attract "star" faculty, even released them from any obligations to the undergraduate curriculum (and in some cases, remarkably enough, from any teaching responsibilities at all).

 

That worldview was passed down to many graduate students, who were led to believe that if they were good enough at research, they would not have to teach either. In our view, teaching experience is an important part of the preparation for academic positions, and more generally imparts valuable presentation and organization skills that should prove useful in any career.

 

The fact is that graduate students who are enthusiastic and skilled teachers, able to contribute to all levels of the undergraduate (and graduate) curriculum, are at a competitive advantage in the job market. It will be taken for granted that you can teach in your broad and narrow areas of specialization (e.g., cognitive psychology or memory or whatever they happen to be for you). The question will be whether you can do anything else. Department chairs are always under pressure to staff "bread-and-butter" courses such as intro, stats, methods, and certain mid-level “survey” courses. Applicants who are enthusiastic and skilled teachers of these courses will be at a special advantage in the marketplace.

 

Which courses should I teach?

The best way to learn to teach is to do it, learning from your own successes and failures, and to watch other teachers and learn from their successes and failures. Experience as a GSI gives you the opportunity to do both, the former in a relatively low-risk environment. Accordingly, our advice is to organize your GSI experience so that you serve in at least one "bread-and-butter" course (e.g., Psych 1 and Psych 101) and at least one mid-level "survey" course, known here at Berkeley as “decade” courses (e.g., 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, or 160). If you are able to teach more than two semesters, then you should request courses that directly relate to your research and/or give you breadth in the field. Frankly, the more you can teach the better, as long as teaching does not interfere with your progress toward your degree. Think about teaching a course in summer school, or at Berkeley Extension, as time permits.

 

How much time will I spend teaching?

To some extent, this depends on your sources of financial support, as well as your own interests. As noted earlier, the Department requires all graduate students, regardless of their source of support, to serve for at least two (2) semesters as a GSI. These are typically “half-time” appointments, meaning that they should not average more than 20 hours per week. Most weeks, you’ll spend much less time than that; some weeks, such as when there are exams or papers due, you’ll probably spend more; but it should average out to 20 hours. 

 

Here is an example of how GSI time may be spent one week in Psychology 1, where there are multiple-choice, computer-scored exams, and no papers:

Attendance at lectures

2 hours

Assist with preparing lectures and exams

1 hour (maximum)

Conduct 3 discussion sections per week

3 hours

Preparation of discussion mini-lecture

6 hours (maximum)

Group meeting with instructor

1 hour

Scheduled office hours

2 hours (students will rarely show up)

Grading of exams

5 hours (bank unused time)

WEEKLY TOTAL

20 HOURS (with lots of wiggle room)

 

And here is an example of how GSI time may be spent one week in an upper-division course, where there are short-answer and short-essay exams, as well as some writing assignments:

Attendance at lectures

2 hours

Conduct 3 discussion sections per week

3 hours

Preparation of discussion mini-lecture

5 hours (maximum)

Scheduled office hours

2 hours (students will rarely show up)

Grading of papers and exams

5 hours (bank unused time)

Reviewing homework assignments

3 hours

WEEKLY TOTAL

20 HOURS (with lots of wiggle room)

 
GSIs are represented by a union; the contract requires the collection of this information from each instructor and requires that the duties be listed in the appointment offer letter. In any event, before you agree to serve as a GSI in any course, you should get something like this from the instructor, so that you’ll know what’s expected of you.
 
But I spend an average of more than 20 hours per week teaching.  What can I do?

 

First, make sure it’s true. We’re psychologists, and we know that impressions can be inaccurate. Start by keeping a log of the time you spend on various duties relating to your GSI appointment. If, after a couple of weeks, you really find that you’re averaging over 20 hours, compare notes with other GSIs who are teaching with you (or who have taught the same class before). Maybe there are some places where you’re spending too much time, and you can cut down a little. If you’re all having the same experience, then you should show your log to the course instructor, and see what s/he can do, either to cut back on the workload, or to help you find ways to economize.

 

Another way is to collaborate with your fellow GSIs, if you have them, to share the workload. If there are two of you, you can rotate developing lesson plans for discussion sections that you both lead; and if there are more than two, all the better! Even if you’re the only GSI for a course, you may be able to get some concrete plans from another graduate student who has GSI-ed for that course. Check in the instructor’s manual for some suggestions. If your textbook doesn’t come with an instructor’s manual, see if you can find the instructor’s manual that goes with some other textbook. Even the instructor’s manual for an introductory textbook will have useful material.

 

For many courses, there are prior lesson plans available on the Psychology Teaching Resource bCourses site. Additionally, he Department’s Teaching Resource Center  (3102 Tolman, aka the Scantron Room) almost certainly has some materials that you can take off the shelf. 

 

Where can I get help with grading term papers and essay exams?

These are definitely the hardest chores for any GSI – and, for that matter, any faculty member, no matter how experienced. First thing, try to get your course instructor to provide you with as much structure as possible. If the exams involve longer essays, ask your instructor to provide you with samples of what a good answer would look like, as well as guidelines for assigning partial credit.

 

The same strategy applies for term papers and other writing assignments. What you need is a “grading rubric”, or a more-or-less explicit framework for evaluating written work. Ask your course instructor to develop one. Or develop one on your own, following the grading advice of the Graduate Division’s GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

 

But it still takes an awful lot of time!

Yes it does. Even with a lot of external support and structure, anything more than a computer-scored multiple-choice exam is going to take a big chunk out of your week. So the thing to do is to plan for this, so that your decks are cleared in preparation for the exam. In addition, make sure (as in the examples above) that your “normative” weekly schedule has built into it enough time that you can “bank” in advance of exam weeks.

 

How can I find out which courses and faculty make the most demands on GSIs?

Ask around. The advanced graduate students will be more than happy to tell you who’s who and what’s what. It may not be possible to avoid the most demanding courses and faculty members in every instance – and if you get stuck, use the advice given here to get as much structure from the instructor as possible. Who knows, once the instructor is made aware of the problem, his or her behavior may change!

 

Can I be employed more than 50% time?

It is possible for graduate students to be on the University payroll for more than 50% -- for example, by combining a 50% GSI with a 25% GSR. This is not recommended, and such requests are subject to strict scrutiny both by the Department and the Graduate Division. A petition to be employed at more than 50% but less than 75% must be approved by the Head Graduate Advisor; a petition to be employed at more than 75% must be approved by the Head Graduate Advisor and then by the Graduate Division.

 

For more information: Graduate Division GSI Appointments