Value of optional TA position?


In my USA Bioengineering doctorate I have an option to volunteer to be a TA if I want that experience. In others’ opinions, is it generally worth it to have TA on the resume when later applying for assistant professor positions, or it may not be worth it compared to extra research time that can be done? I understand work involved in the position can vary a lot but I am interested in the general job market value it has compared to more research results. I do not have much other teaching experience aside from giving lectures at lab groups, conferences, etc.

Avatar for rewt

I thought, a little bit is good but not essential. Saying that I have never been on a hiring committee but I have heard some looks good on a CV though not the biggest priority for research focused academic jobs. For a teachning university it would be valued higher but publications are usually valued higher. On the otherhand doing a bit of teaching at the start of your PhD gives you an indication if you enjoy teaching and whether you want to do that as part of your career. To be honest, I found I didn't like teaching and I don't want to be a professor because of it but I enjoy reserach. Finding out now might prevent a rude shock when you discover you hate it when you become a professor.

Also, the money is nice.


I have been on hiring committees and I'd say it wouldn't be a big plus, but it might be a minor plus.

Generally, academic hires work on the weird assumption everyone can teach. This is patently untrue, but often what's looked at - in the UK at least - are the metrics relevant to the research, i.e. what can you return in a future RAE. From what (perhaps little) I understand globally it's similar, but might vary in what these metrics are (citations vs venue, etc.).

One hidden plus, is that if you're good at it, you might find yourself with a job offer from your own institution when you graduate. Nobody likes to lose good teaching staff because it means somebody else needs to teach x obscure subject, and people with expertise in x obscure subject are hard to find. But this might not be as good a job prospect as a proper postdoc.

There's a more general plus that it will hopefully help you go from teaching infront of 200 people being a terrifying thing, to the kind of thing you turn up 5 minutes late to with a coffee and sleep your way through. One of the best things about teaching in academia is how, after about 6 months, it - for most people - cures fear of public speaking. There's a lot to be said for that as a learning experience.


Volunteer to be a TA? As in unpaid? Please don't do that. If you work, you should be paid.

I would suggest that you gain work experience in start ups as a industry researcher or any other role that may interest you. This will give you the option of going to academia and industry once you finish.


Thanks @rewt! A variety of sources indicate like what you said that it is not essential but optional. I am kind of approaching it in a way of considering how comfortable am I assuming the risk of added work given it is an optional extra thing. I don’t want to play it safe, but want to tease out a sense of the value of the experience before committing to it. I plan to list out and weigh the evidence I have for and against a TAship at some point and just make a judgment call. It is great to get feedback such as from you and the others to help inform me.


Thanks @abababa! Nice to get feedback from you, having been on hiring committees. The marginal benefit vs. work required is a tricky choice. To your point about research metrics, it is complex to weigh something that might take time away from my main purpose – research – compared to being more well rounded with teaching experience. You have a good point about it being a learning experience. Although, I say with modesty I’m not too worried about my public speaking skills or capability to teach.

Since you have been on hiring committees, generally speaking, what are some considerations you would make in assessing to hire or not candidate A who has the same number of publications as candidate B but A has one more major journal than B and B has a TAship when A has no TAships? What if instead of a major journal, A just had 1 more publication than B?


Thanks @tru! I would be paid in the sense that it would be a scholarship covering courses and providing a living expense stipend. My PI can alternatively cover me with an RAship which would do the same just not need me to be a TA. I am interested in staying in academia for the future. I found a helpful blog post: . It indicates R1 hiring (in the case cited) of assistant professors have an average of 1 TAship, which seems perhaps low enough in number that it is not essential. I also welcome anyone to share their answers on questions I asked to abababa or comment on any replies I posted. Note: I asked the question from this post on another forum also: .


"Since you have been on hiring committees, generally speaking, what are some considerations you would make in assessing to hire or not candidate A who has the same number of publications as candidate B but A has one more major journal than B and B has a TAship when A has no TAships? What if instead of a major journal, A just had 1 more publication than B?"

That's never *actually* happened since it's very much a hypothetical. And I would say, frankly, it would likely depend on how they come across at interview - enthusiasm, energy, and presentation skill on the day tend to carry more weight relative to a CV than they should. In a perfect world, we'd judge objectively by merit alone, but in a world where interviews are a thing rather than an algorithm, a candidates 'likability' tends to carry some considerable weight. Often, in a teaching scenario, there's a degree of not what a candidate knows, but how well you think they'd engage with students (there are often a lot of talented PhDs who hide at the back of the lab in their early teaching experiences). Similarly, in a research sense the 'how well would they fit the group' often gets swayed by charisma rather than aptitude.

I think what I'm saying ultimately is this strays a bit into the 'random noise' territory, where the decision wouldn't be made on that alone and could easily be decided either way by the candidate's performance on the day. One thing I have definitely learned on hiring committees, is that before, as a prospective postdoc, I'd put more much weight on minutiae of CV details than actually seem to be noticed, let alone considered as a major factor.

Of course this doesn't really help answer your question. I would probably, on overall balance, say A would objectively be better on paper. It's very hard to say 'major' journal, e.g. if it's Nature, candidate A pretty much wins; if B's article is in some predatory publishing BS 'journal of science', then they lose. If it's some kind of debatable, subject-specific thing, which is in reality likely, then there's more of a grey area. I think it's also the case if you manage teaching time correctly (i.e. ruthlessly), then it shouldn't take so many hours out of your week that it outright prevents a top-tier publication. But I would also say having just noted 'volunteer', that you should be paid for teaching. I'd definitely be reticent about any teaching contact that's unpaid as that seems exploitative regardless.