Grad TAs

Employment Info

Academic student employees (ASEs) — which include research (RA) and teaching assistants (TA), readers, graders, tutors, and others — are represented by the UAW Local 4121 union and covered by the ASE contract. An appointment that classifies you as an ASE is governed by a collective bargaining agreement between the University and Local 4121 ASEs; this lays out the obligations of both parties.

The Astronomy department has its own graduate funding policy which outlines ASE appointments and salary terms. First year students will receive information about their funding package in their offer of admission letter. This offer letter serves as the appointment letter for a student's first year. Students should familiarize themselves with both the ASE contract and the funding policy prior to accepting an appointment offer.  All students should check the academic calendar for class registration deadlines and instruction dates.

Requesting TA Positions

Each year, typically in the Summer quarter, all graduate students will be sent an email to confirm funding for the following academic year. Students who have guaranteed funding should communicate this to both the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) and Graduate Program Advisor (GPA). If needed, a student must notify the GPA and GPC when they require a TA position and their course preferences by the communicated deadline.

Although there are a limited number of TA positions within the department, you should be assigned to a TA position if you require one. This page is written specifically for those UW Astronomy graduate students. 

Summer TAs

Graduate funding is not guaranteed during Summer quarter, and there are only 1-2 positions available. As above, students will receive emails gauging the interest for Summer TAs in advance, as early as Winter quarter. 

Course Assignments

Approximately 3 weeks before the beginning of each quarter,  you will be sent an appointment offer letter that includes your course assignment, and a job description. You must accept this offer by the given deadline. After accepting a TA offer, you will be contacted by your supervisor (i.e. the course instructor) along with the other TAs for that course. Either the instructor will assign your sections, or you and your fellow TAs must determine the division of sections between you. 

TA Guide

The Center for Teaching and Learning has general resources on engaging students in the learning process, and inclusive teaching.

Lead TA

Starting Fall 2024, there will be a senior-level graduate student with previous experience TA'ing in UW Astronomy available to answer questions, review materials, and troubleshoot problems. This individual will provide training to incoming first-year students, and conduct teaching reviews for the remaining TAs.

General Duties

The Graduate School has a TA policy which outlines departmental responsibilities regarding TA instruction. According to this policy, teaching duties are defined as interactions with students over instructional issues. Examples of teaching duties include holding office hours, reviewing tests or paper scores/evaluations with students, answering questions in special centers such as those focused on assistance with writing, math, chemistry, etc., tutoring, conducting labs, leading discussions, assisting students to solve problem sets, commenting on studio work, or lecturing.

For ASTR 101 and ASTR 150 classes, you will be expected to:

  • run discussion/quiz sessions for a large lecture course and assist with course grading
  • hold "office hours" for 2 hours per week
  • work an average of 20 hours per week (no more than 220 hours per quarter)

The table below is an example of what those hours can look like for Astronomy TAs. 

Task Estimated Time Weekly Frequency
attending instructor's lectures 3 hrs 2 lectures
3 lectures
attending TA meetings with supervisor 1 hr  
holding weekly office hours 2 hrs  
running sections 4 hrs 2 sections; 2x each
4 sections; 1x each
preparing for sections 10 hrs  

For example, a TA may spend 2 hrs/week  — a low estimate for new TAs — preparing material for sections, 1 hr doing administration tasks such as answering emails, entering grades, and 7 hrs grading completed assignments. With 64 students, that amounts to about 6.5 minutes per student per week.

Missing Section

If you must miss a section for any reason, you are responsible for notifying your supervisor and finding a replacement TA.  Approval of work absences is at the full discretion of the supervisor, and some instructors may be more strict than others. 


The time and location for each quiz section are listed on the Upcoming Courses page, but be sure to confirm with the UW Time Schedule. Sections are listed in alphabetical order (AA, AB, AC, AD,... and so on).

First Day

  • Be clear about your email policy (e.g. how late you'll respond after business hours)
  • Review UW Emergency procedures
  • Show students where to find your office

Accessing Course Information

The UW uses the Canvas learning management system. Class information, including the syllabus, student list, the gradebook, announcements, etc. , is available through Canvas. 

  • log into your MyUW account, navigate to the current Quarter
  • your sections should appear under "My Class Resources"
    • from here you can print student photo lists, request email lists, or add a link to the course site

Accessing the Grade Book

  • in MyUW, navigate to Canvas LMS under "Quick Links"
  • click on the course from the list of courses where you have been added as a TA
  • select the "Grades" tab on the left
    • TAs are not allowed to submit grades, and should enter only their section grades.

Accessing the Equipment Room

  • located on the 2nd floor of PAA, next to the Planetarium
    • contains calculators, pencils, pens, white board markers, balloons, rulers, balls, scissors, and more.
  • your office key should open the door (check that this is true before classes start)

Using Classrooms

  • projectors in the section classrooms (typically A210 and A216) turn on automatically when a laptop connects to either the HDMI or VGA cable.
    • you may want to bring an HDMI adapter in case the provided one is broken.
  • make sure to cleanup at the end of the day: erase the white board,  return equipment to storage, lock the door and turn off the lights

Supplies and Copies

  • use the correct copy code for the class you are TAing
  • do not use the supplies in the Astronomy mail room — expect for copy paper — as they are on separate budgets
  • make requests for items that have run out or that you think may be useful via the Undergraduate Assistants in the main office

TA Meetings

  • instructor gives instructions on coming week's lecture and section activities
  • at first meeting, this can include a schedule of lectures and exercises for the quarter 
  • instructors may provide typed lecture notes and explicit TA instructions
    • this usually includes rubrics, answer keys, guidance on grading certain assignments

Best Practices

Class Prep

  • Make a lesson plan. What are your goals for the lesson? What should students be able to do? How will you assess their learning? How does this lesson fit into the rest of the course? Always have a plan.
  • Plan your section time down to 10 minute increments. Write out this lesson plan for yourself. After section is over, go back to this lesson plan and write down what worked, what didn't work, and what needed an adjustment of time. Keep the lesson plan (with the date) to refer back to in subsequent quarters of TAing.
  • Keep all lesson plans organized with clean copies of handouts, assignments, and grading keys. 
  • Get reimbursed if you buy equipment for section activities.
  • If you feel like you are taking on too much work, or being asked too much, talk to your fellow TAs.


  • Students are more likely to trust your answers to their questions and ask further questions if you begin responses with "that's a good question" or "good thinking what I mean is..." or something along those lines.
  • Don't be afraid to make a mistake, goof up an explanation, or make fun of yourself. Students may find TAs more approachable if they can see first hand that they are not perfect and all-knowing.
  • When you can't answer a student's question in the detail you'd like to, write it down and answer it in the next class, or over email. This is a way of rewarding students for actively thinking.
  • Give time for students to think about the question you asked. It's better to have open ended questions and have them discuss the questions before reporting back.
  • Work on the assignments before the students have to do them. If there are issues with the assignment, notify the instructor.
  • If using the white board, write large and legibly, and check that you have good markers and eraser cloths.
  • Ask for feedback early and often from both students and instructor. This can be done via mid-term evaluations.
  • If there are online discussion groups, get involved early. Make positive comments on student posts and follow-up with thought-provoking questions.
  • Privately reach out to struggling students to find out what is affecting them, and how they can pass the class. Notify the instructor.


What to expect to get out of TAing

  • Strong comprehension of basic astronomy.
  • Opportunity to work with different levels of students in classroom setting and in office hours.
  • Ability to respond to any teaching situation – being able to read the class and understand when you can move on to another topic.
  • Organizational skills and preparedness
  • Ability to think and discuss topics in different ways, not just as they are written in a textbook.
  • Practice explaining topics in multiple ways.
  • Exposure to a cross section of UW campus and the larger community.
  • Joy of teaching others a topic you're interested in and recognizing that they may hate it.
  • Good presentation skills.

What TAs expect of their instructor

  • Setting expectations in a timely manner – at least two business day advance notice on lesson plans.
  • Communicating any changes to material covered in sections.
  • Awareness that they are teaching TAs how to teach by good leadership and teaching.
  • Respect and professionalism in all interactions.
  • Preparation of lab material and curriculum, but TAs may consult in the writing of exams. 
  • Responsibility for the generation of material,
  • Strong guidance and a lot of advance warning if TA is expected to generate material.

What instructors and other TAs expect in a TA

  • Attend lecture (and tell your instructor when you must miss).
  • Make accessible office hours.
  • Update grade book in timely manner.
  • Do exam/quiz reviews.
  • Be on time and prepared to section.
  • Find replacement TAs if you can't make a section.
  • Tell your instructor if you have to miss a section.
  • Grade in a timely manner.
  • Respond to emails in timely manner.
  • Forward messages to instructors if there is a grading issue or excessive questions.
  • TAs should be free to present the material how they wish, though graded material throughout the course should be uniform.