While “Graduate Assistant” (GA) is the official designation used in all university documents and publications, GAs with teaching duties are often referred to as “Teaching Assistants” and GAs with research duties as “Research Assistants.”
Teaching assistants (TAs) usually have a 9-month appointment that corresponds with the academic year. The specific duties of a TA vary depending on the needs of the department and on the qualifications and experiences of the TA. All TAs serve under the direction and supervision of a regularly appointed member of the faculty. They may teach a section of a multi-section course or a laboratory section of a course. In addition, they may assist a faculty member in grading assignments or exams, advising students, or performing course-related administrative duties. Occasionally, an experienced TA may be assigned as the instructor of a course. In such a case, the TA must meet all the qualifications required of a lecturer for the course, or have completed a relevant training program. All new TAs are required to attend a training session offered by the Office of Faculty Development and Academic Support — Center for Teaching Excellence.
University policy stipulates that in a course taught by a TA, the determination of final grades is the responsibility of the supervising faculty. However, since the TA plays a significant role in determining grades, the supervising faculty and the TA should thoroughly discuss course grading policies and procedures. To ensure fairness to all students enrolled in the course, grading policies and procedures should be announced in the beginning of the semester. TAs should be knowledgeable about official university policies on credits and grades, disciplinary actions, and academic grievance procedure. They should also be aware of the various student services available at the Office of Student Affairs, so that they may refer students to the appropriate resources when necessary.
Research assistants (RAs) usually have an 11-month appointment. In general, a RA supports the research activities of a faculty who is the principal investigator of a funded project. The specific duties of a RA vary depending on the needs of the project and on the qualifications and experiences of the RA. The duties may be directly or tangentially related to the RA’s program of study, while results from the research project may be incorporated into a thesis or dissertation as relevant. Some RAs exercise a great degree of independence while performing their duties; others carry out specific tasks that leave little room for independent judgment. RAs should be knowledgeable about official university policies on research and publication.