Grad School may resonate with research and most likely research will be the main source of funding for most of Grad Students. However, it is often forgotten how many Grad Students are Teaching Assistants (TA) and we ourselves forget how important the TA position is. Of my 5+ years at Purdue I served the last 3 years as a TA for a undergraduate class teaching two introductory courses of engineering design to the incoming First-Year engineering students.
With around 240 First-Year students under the umbrella of my responsibility, I have the great task of primarily aid the faculty members in conveying the courses’ learning objectives. I see this with different lenses, I believe that my work is beyond entering grades and from times to times give a lecture or two, I see my job as mentoring the future generations that will someday (and not so many days later) be where I am. I teach concepts of engineering design, engineering innovation and some basic notions of computer coding, but more than that, I bring my experiences from the world of Aerospace Engineering particularly the rocket science to awaken the students into a world of possibilities with their careers and (secretly) recruit some to the school of aeronautics.
Perhaps the biggest realization of the TA job is that of all the students in the classroom setting I am the one that learns the most! There are countless occasions on which I shared some of the challenges that I face either in research or in classes that I take that seem to have no way out and a fantastic out-of-the-box solution came out from some of the ideas that my students came up with.
These lenses are given to me by Purdue University with their never-ending pursue of excellence in the teaching core. Not a day has past that I “TAed” (and yes, we use TA as a verb!) and felt that the job was a mere source of funding, I see my job as an opportunity to mentor the next great engineer and being greeted by a former student who thank me for inspiring them makes the whole teaching experience worthwhile.