Graduate School

Christine Pan

Graduate School

Graduate school is the place where theory and career development intersect and enhance each other.  Graduate school should be the place where students seriously turn their career plans into actions.  

At Simon Fraser University, there are many great opportunities to help graduate students start their career and future.  Graduate students can consider Teaching Assistant (TA), Tutor Marker (TM)  and Sessional Instructor (SI) jobs within or outside of their departments.  Job postings for TAs, TMs and SIs are updated by SFU departments and hosted centrally on the Grad Studies website: https://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/job-postings.html.

If graduate students who do not have teaching experiences are considering staying in academia, they can start with tutoring jobs.  SFU’s Friends of Simon can equip inexperienced graduate students to gain experiences in multicultural teaching settings while earning extra money for graduate school expenses.  In order to acquire a TA or TM position as the next step, graduate students need to have an understanding of the course content, the pedagogy of teaching and learning and some experience teaching the relevant course.  Therefore, other than Friends of Simon, students may want to seek large class teaching experiences elsewhere.  Links such as EdJobs (https://www.sfu.ca/education/teachersed/workopportunities.html), Make A Future (https://makeafuture.applytoeducation.com/Applicant/AttSearch.aspx), other online job postings and network connections can all be resources for graduate students to seek and gain valuable teaching experiences in order to acquire post-secondary TA and TM positions.

Once students acquire a TA or TM position, they can develop teaching ability while waiting for opportunities to apply for SI positions.  However, SI positions are not frequently offered because it gets posted only when no faculty member is available to undertake the teaching responsibilities. SI responsibilities may be more challenging than TA or TM duties.  SIs may be expected to develop and submit such items as a course outline or textbook order in advance of the semester or to assist in following up a grade appeal or the cleaning up of a deferred grade after the end of the semester, whereas TAs or TMs usually just follow their course chair’s course outline and lesson plans.  Unlike TAs and TMs, SIs is free to present material and information related to the subject matter of the course in a manner she/he deems appropriate, to make independent comment, and to encourage critical judgement by students.  Before taking greater SI responsibilities, it would be beneficial for students to familiarize themselves with post-secondary teaching as a TA or TM.  As a matter of fact, there are usually more TA/TM positions available than SI positions. 

While teaching, students may want to pursue a doctoral degree, so it will be easier to acquire a lecturer or limited term appointment.  Meanwhile, the applicants need to have proven teaching ability, which is reflected in the evaluations from previous years working as a TA, TM or SI.  Therefore, TAs, TMs and SIs need to take all their duties seriously.  Since lecturers shall have full responsibility for the preparation and instruction of courses, for the supervision of any teaching assistants, for curriculum development, and for associated duties, it is critical for TAs, TMs and SIs to develop their ability while having appointments.  For lecturers, currency in the discipline is essential, but there is no requirement of research activity. Lecturers are responsible to the Department Chair (or designate) for assigned duties.  The primary obligation of lecturers is teaching and associated duties.  They are fully responsible for courses in the same manner as other faculty members.  Although it can be challenging, graduate students who want to stay in academia may want to consider these steps while working on their graduate degree.

In addition to teaching positions, graduate students may also find research assistant experiences to be an asset in academia.  Their responsibilities vary as widely as their fields, but most research assistants will participate in a range of activities from practical research to grant writing to community engagement to presentations of their research.  Students can find some research assistant jobs by checking out Jobs and Volunteer Postings (https://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/blog/jobpostings.html).  

There may be challenges and difficulties as graduate students walk this career path in academia.  In the face of obstacles, it is important to develop resilience, knowing that their efforts will never be wasted. 

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