TA Talks

KARAN R. KATHURIA and SANJANA BALACHANDRA

You probably talk with your friends about your TAs, but have you ever wondered what your TA thinks about you and your class? We interviewed Omar Harirah, an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UGTA) for Dr. Laude’s CH 301 class, and Dennis Wang, a student in his class, to get some perspective on both sides of the TA experience.

Interview with Omar Harirah

When did you first consider wanting to be a UGTA for CH 301?
I shadowed one of Dr. Laude’s TAs, Patrick Hunt, last year as a peer assistant mentor. During the review sessions, I would walk around to each of the students to help them understand some of the topics being taught. I explained a question and received an “Oh, I get it now!” and knew I wanted to help students get a better handle on Introductory Chemistry.

What motivated you to be a TA for this course?
I am not a Chemistry major, but I realize the integral importance that the course plays in student success on a collegiate level. If I can help one student develop a stable footing during their first year in the realm of chemistry, that would be of the greatest personal value to me.

What steps did you take in order to become a TA?
To be perfectly honest, I am not sure if there is an equation to becoming a TA, but I will admit that there are a few things to do to put yourself in a good position to apply: attending office hours and getting to know a TA to ensure you actually want to teach the material.

What qualities make for a good TA?
The best TAs are both accessible and those who are devoted to the students’ success; they believe that each and every one of the students has the potential to understand the concepts and dedicate their efforts to reaching this goal.

What advice do you have for students who are looking to be a UGTA?
For students aspiring to be a UGTA, I would say to shadow a TA and experiment with explaining concepts to peers. Whether that is studying with friends or providing an explanation to a student in class that seems confused, you have to be invested in the process of learning and the drive towards student success.

What advice do you have for students to encourage them to interact with their TAs?
TAs are students too. I would like see myself as an approachable TA that is open to discussions with students about Chemistry as well as class scheduling advice outside of the classroom.

Do you have a favorite moment from your TA career thus far?
This has got to be mentoring students. Whether it’s giving advice on whom to take for a biology class or explaining how to locate resonance in a molecule, the concept of mentorship and student advancement has to be the most rewarding facet of being a TA.

How has being a TA impacted your life in college?
It has definitely made me more popular, since it is a class of 500 students.

Do you see yourself in a teaching role later on in life?
Definitely, I am so glad medicine has some teaching components within the field, and this experience is leading me towards a career in institutional medicine.

Interview with Dennis Wang

What qualities make for a good TA?
Aside from the obvious qualities such as being knowledgeable and able to teach, I think qualities that make a good TA are being approachable and amiable. In the case of my chemistry TA, Omar, I think he is a wonderful TA because he not only is able to convey the material well, but he is also chill and cracks lots of jokes.

How would you go about interacting with your TA?
My interactions with my TAs in my different classes vary greatly. Because I personally know my chemistry TA, our interactions are extremely informal; however, with my biology TA, our interactions are more formal and a little awkward.

How has having a TA impacted your college experience? 
I think TAs can be beneficial. I view them as a like extra academic resource, basically people other than the professors to whom I can reach out for better understanding of the material.

As you can see, your TAs are probably every bit as human and sociable as you never thought they could be. Hopefully, you might feel a little more comfortable about reaching out and talking to your TA next time!

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