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Course VI Offers Incentive to TAs

By Helana Kadyszewski


Beginning this spring, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will offer a $185 monthly stipend bonus to doctoral teaching assistants with at least one term of teaching experience.

Doctoral candidates who have previously worked as a Course VI TA and wish to continue are eligible for a $2035 monthly stipend instead of the normal $1850.

Course VI Executive Officer and Professor Frederick C. Hennie ’55 oversees TA appointments in the department. He said the raise is aimed to reward qualified teaching assistants who are dedicated to teaching, and also to provide some incentive for experienced TAs to continue.

However, Masters of Engineering (M.Eng.) students are not eligible for the bonus. “We would offer all of our TAs a raise if we could, but the budget does not allow it,” Hennie said.

While the department does not anticipate a TA shortage for the coming terms, it realizes that it must maintain high teaching standards for the benefit of their enrolled students. Furthermore, the department wishes to financially support its graduate students during their studies, especially with the high cost of living in the Boston area.

TAs earn credit, pay

Graduate students register their TA duties as 24 units of Institute credit hours. The duties of the TA are highly dependent upon the class they are assigned to, but generally include assisting the lecturer with grading, teaching recitations, weekly instruction, and assisting with demonstrations.

Course VI TAs said that their demanding schedules merit the 24 units of credit.

“When they say 24 units, they mean 24 units,” said M.Eng. candidate Benjamin M. Vandiver G, who has been a TA in Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) for the past three consecutive terms. “I spend eight to nine hours in tutorial, two hours a week in recitation, four to five hours grading, and then there’s the prep work and office hours,” Vandiver said. “It adds up.”

When asked why he has accepted the demanding role of TA, Vandiver said, “it pays the bills, but more importantly, it’s improved my teaching.”

Vandiver supports the decision to raise TA stipends, and agrees that it is very important that undergraduates have access to experienced TAs. “As a 6.001 TA, I see myself not only as a teacher, but also as a salesman for the major. With a term or two of experience under my belt, I feel like I’m a better resource for the students.”

However, he is disappointed that, as an M.Eng. candidate, he is not eligible for the raise. Nonetheless, Vandiver said he plans to continue working on the 6.001 staff in the future.

Baris I. Erkmen G, a doctoral candidate and a TA in Introduction to Communication, Control, and Signal Processing (6.011), is eligible for the bonus if he continues to teach next term.

“It’s nice to see that the department recognizes the dedication of its hardworking graduate students,” Erkmen said. As a Course VI undergraduate at MIT, Erkmen had his share of both good and bad TAs. While he never questioned the qualifications of his TAs, he often wondered about their motivation for teaching.

Erkmen does not plan to be a TA next term but said, “I would feel better equipped if I were to return to 6.011.”

The deadline for spring TA appointments has been extended following the announcement of the bonus, Hennie said. MIT appoints nearly 700 graduate student teaching assistantships annually.