Case Studies

As a TA you may occasionally find yourself in situations where you are unsure how to proceed. You may feel conflicted if it seems like your various TA responsibilities are at odds with each other. Consider some of the situations below and think about how you might handle each of them. You may find it helpful to brainstorm a number of different resolutions for each situation and then try to imagine the consequences of each. Does your initial impression change after considering the thought questions posed below?

A night at the bar

Elise and Dmitry are graduate students enjoying an evening drink at a local bar. Earlier in the evening they proctored a mid-term test and tomorrow they will begin marking. A group of six students from the class is also at the bar and recognizes them and invites them to join their table.

Thought questions:

i) Will Elise and Dmitry be able to remain objective in their marking if they socialize with their students?

ii) What steps could they take while marking to ensure objectivity?

iii) How might other students feel if they see Elise and Dmitry drinking at a bar with their class-mates?

Class discussions

During a class discussion on world conflict, several of the students in the class become very upset by another student's comment that, "religion is responsible for creating conflict between people who might otherwise get along." As the discussion progresses, emotions amongst several of the students become increasingly heated, and you are concerned that things are getting out of control.

Thought questions:

i) Should some topics not be discussed in tutorial in order to avoid conflict?

ii) What might happen if you don't resolve this issue (i.e. allowing students to leave mid-argument)?

iii) Are there steps you could have taken to prevent this situation from occurring?

Extenuating circumstances

Alana comes to your office the day of the final exam to tell you that she cannot write the exam because she has been suffering from migraine headaches for the last two weeks. Alana is close to tears as she tells you that she has not been able to study. Alana wants you to give her permission to write the exam in a couple of weeks, "once she is feeling better."

Thought questions:

i) How can you know if Alana is telling the truth?

ii) As a TA, do you have the authority to allow Alana to postpone her final exam?

iii) How else could Alana have handled this situation? Would it have been useful to communicate her other options to her earlier in the term (e.g. including the university policy on medical certificates in the first lecture)?

Late night in the lab

Keara shares a lab with three other graduate students, one of whom, like Keara , often works late at night. Keara has noticed on several occasions that the other student frequently engages in unsafe practices i.e. leaving hazardous materials unattended and using laboratory equipment without authorization. When Keara tried talking to the student about her concerns, he told her to "mind her own business." Given that Keara has to work closely with this student she is worried about the repercussions of reporting his behaviour.

Thought questions:

i) What might happen if Keara does not report this student's behaviour?

ii) What might happen if she does?

iii) Are there any pre-existing policies on campus that might guide Keara in her actions?

Time management

Anita is a new graduate student. She is having a difficult time balancing her commitments as a student and teaching assistant. Just last week her TA supervisor asked her to mark an additional 25 lab assignments which caused her to go over the 10 hour time limit. All of this extra work is taking time away from her own research and she is concerned she will not do well in her own research program.

Thought questions:

i) Are there any potential misunderstandings that could have occurred between Anita and her TA supervisor which may have resulted in this situation?

ii) According to the typical TA contract, are there any situations where it is okay for Anita to exceed her 10 hour weekly time limit?

iii) What are some potential resources available to Anita to help her deal with her dilemma?