Teaching Assistantships

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Typically, full-time in-time PNB graduate students hold two Teaching Assistantships (TAs) per calendar year. Most often, one TAship will be scheduled in the fall term and one will be scheduled in the winter term. The time commitment for each TA is 100 hours per term, or 200 hours per year. Graduate student TAs at McMaster University are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3906.

TA Responsibilities and Hours of Work form


The course instructor will be your main point of contact regarding TA responsibilities throughout the term. All students who are working as TAs must complete the TA Hours and Work Form at the beginning of the term of each TAship. Consult with the instructor of the course to complete the TA HOURS OF WORK FORM and submit it to the PNB Graduate Administrative Assistant, Emily Thomas. This form will provide an outline for the types of duties you are expected to perform over the course of the term, and an estimate of how your 100 working hours (per term) will be allocated.

TA duties can vary widely depending on the course, but generally include: attending lectures, leading tutorials, marking assignments, holding office hours, answering emails, monitoring and contributing to online discussions, supervising labs, and invigilating exams. It is important that this form is filled out with adequate detail to avoid ambiguity. The majority of TA disputes are avoided by having a satisfactory Hours of Work form. It is a good practice to keep a log of your hours worked as the term progresses. If you believe you might be on track to exceed 100 hours of work, contact the course instructor immediately.

Scheduling conflicts: When you complete the TA Hours and Work Form at the beginning of each term, look carefully at your calendar for that term. You should know by then whether there might be a conflict with the timing of any of your TA duties. Talk to the course instructor well ahead of the possible conflict so that alternative plans can be made, if possible and if warranted. Note that your TAship duties take priority over most scheduling conflicts. Teaching Assistantships are well-paid hours and contribute significantly to your financial support. Course instructors depend on you.

Please note that TA duties begin on the first day of undergraduate classes in both fall and winter terms. Make note of the first day of classes for undergraduate courses in both fall and winter terms by looking for Sessional Dates in the undergraduate calendar for the relevant year. You are expected to be available on campus on that day, which is when TA duties begin. Course instructors depend on the reliability of their teaching assistants. You would never skip the first day of a new job - your TAship is a well-paid job, overseen by CUPE. Make sure to work out scheduling conflicts well ahead by consulting with the course instructor.

This useful Teaching Assistant Guide is available from the McMaster MacPherson Institute.

How are TAs assigned to specific courses?

Typically, the department will contact graduate students in the summer months to collect their preferences for assignment to courses. However, there are a tremendous number of overlapping constraints for these assignments and there is a chance that you might not get your first (or even second) choice in some years. The department will attempt to adjust assignments in light of research-related conflicts such as required field work, however TA assignments take precedence over other work-related conflicts.

TA Rights and Conflict Resolution

If you have a conflict or a concern that you have not been able to resolve directly with your TA supervisor, CUPE will work to mediate the conflict on your behalf. If you are unsure of who to contact, the department has union stewards that can direct you to the appropriate person.

TA Income and Benefits

PNB graduate students typically TA two courses per year, one in fall term and one in the winter term, involving a minimum of 200 hours of work over the academic year. The 2020-2021 Teaching Assistantship, including fall and winter TAships of 100 hours each (plus 3 hours training), prior to any deductions, is valued at a minimum of $9,168. The hourly rate is determined by the Collective Agreement with CUPE 3906 Unit 1 TA (see page 42).

CHECK: This salary is distributed over 8 biweekly payments during the semesters you are working as a TA. It is worth noting that scholarship salary payment is evenly distributed throughout the year. As a result, your total income will fluctuate throughout the year, and is likely to be significantly lower in the summer. The payment schedule can be viewed on the CUPE website or on your Mosaic account.

Graduate students who TA for at least 130 hours/year will receive dental benefits through CUPE. This plan provides a maximum of $1000 of coverage ($2000 for family coverage) for dental services (e.g. cleanings and fillings) per calendar year. For major restorative work such as a crown or a bridge, get your dentist to submit an estimate to the insurance company to check against your coverage before paying anything. Other benefits provided by CUPE are a health care spending account, which has a maximum entitlement of $250 per twenty four month period. This coverage primarily covers vision care. Students who do not TA for at least 130 hours per academic year (including those who have been bought out of their TA) do not qualify for the CUPE dental plan, and are covered by the GSA dental plan instead (which offers $750 of coverage per year).

Maximum Number of Hours You Can Work

McMaster University regulations state that the maximum number of hours that full-time graduate students can work on campus is 10 hours/week; this includes work from Teaching Assistantships. It is the responsibility of the graduate student to make sure that any work above the teaching assistant duties falls within the guidelines set out by the university and the union (CUPE 3906). If you work more than the allowed 505 hours per academic year, you risk losing your full-time student status, and therefore, not only your scholarship, but also the high pay rate for Teaching Assistantship work. See Financial Support for additional details related to graduate support in PNB.

TAship Resources

Resources for Graduate Student TAs (Unit 1) - Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3906 [1]
CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Collective Agreement [2]
CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Health Benefits [3]
CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Dental Plan [4]
GSA Dental Plan [5]

Out-Of-Time (OOT) students

The department is not able to provide financial support (including Teaching Assistantships) to out-of-time students. On occasion, there might be a need for a TA that cannot be filled by any in-time student. In that case, we advertise the position to the out-of-time PhD level students who are not defending until after the TAship is completed. We will evaluate the applications in terms of expertise for fulfilling the requirements of that specific TAship, similar to the way we advertise for sessional teaching positions. See also Financial Support.