Friday, 15 August 2014

Post 28: TA Conference and other TA and Grad Resources on Campus

Last week an email in my inbox made me really look forward to the approaching new semester: The Teaching Assistant Conference (TA Conference), put on by the Learning and Teaching Centre is on again this year!!

Aside from being an awesome on-campus resource that helps organize everything from tutors to writing help to teaching tips, the Learning and Teaching Centre has been running this conference for a number of years. The conference usually takes place in the week right after the Labour Day long weekend, which is idea for grad students and teaching assistants, because tutorials, labs, and other TA-related work doesn't yet begin.

The layout of the conference is great: its agenda features workshops for both new and experienced grad students, with some specializing in the three main discliplines: the Humanities, the Sciences, and the Social Sciences. As well, a few of the workshops are specifically designed for international graduate students who are TAing.

Tuesday is the most important day for the conference. It's a day stuffed full of presentations and concurrent sessions; there is a less busy schedule on the subsequent week days.

Two years ago when I was first starting my program, I attended this conference, and my experience was very positive. Certainly, I felt more prepared going into what then was a completely new experience. Some of the most memorable workshops were one on the many different kinds of icebreakers one could run at the beginning of a class to get students (and you) to know each other. I usually employ an altered a game that I played years ago in high school theatre class, but the workshop was great for getting me to think about different class sizes and how one can use the appropriate ice breaker.

Another one was specifically about being an introvert and TAing, and the kind of personality one brings to the classroom. I'm sure we all know the jokester, or the super engaging, humorous teacher or professor that knows when to crack the best joke, and how to include tastefully funny comments in their presentation. That isn't me, and it's stressful enough, sometimes, for me to be in front of a class (that is improving, however, with practice). The takeaway I got from there? Don't worry about being someone you're not; be your usual, quiet self, if that's what you need to do. You'll be engaging if you bring your excitement and care, and students will be understanding. They will know if you're being sincere and have their interests and learning experience in mind.

If you're around during the first week of September, I highly recommend attending!
Updated note: The Department is having their retreat on Tuesday, but even if you miss the first day of the conference, attend the others! There are numerous sessions that take place all throughout the week.

                                    When every stick looks the same, it's good to know which
                                                          resource will serve you best!

Aside from the TA conference right at the beginning of the semester, there are always a number of other resources available for graduate students on campus. This short list is a few of the main ones:

The Writing Centre (soon to become the Centre for Academic Communication), whose tutors will sit with you one-on-one to discuss your writing, ways to self-edit, revise, etc. They also conduct workshops throughout the year on everything from planning your research, to writing it up, and presentation skills.

The Halpern Centre for Graduate Students is also a great place to spend a bit of time, have a pint and/or a meal, and meet to discuss ideas with fellow grad students.

                              Another of our local beauties: common camas (Camassia quamash).

The Thesis Completion Group, run through Counselling Services, is a supportive undertaking that helps students to complete their theses! Maybe the best part is the camaraderie of understanding peers finding their way through academia, and the great listener and advice-giver that the organizer, Janet, is. The TCG also covers some practical things like time management (Pomodoros!), goal setting and planning, offering tips on the best resources for writing your thesis and dissertations, managing relationships with supervisors, and overall, just providing an open, supportive space.

CUPE 4163 is also the union the TAs belong to, and are a resource for all things work-related for TAs, including working conditions, interpreting the Collective Agreement (the rules that govern TAs' relationship to the university, and everything from breaks, to sick leave, to training...). They also have access to mediators and legal professional help if there is a need. Their blog features a number of up-to-date articles and issues that affect academia as well.

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