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TF Resources: Frequently Asked Questions

This is a collection of various questions related to teaching which you might ask yourself at some point. Many formal questions (e.g., course requirement) are answered elsewhere on this website. Likewise, many of the basic questions about life as a Physics TF are answered in the Physics TF Guide, which also has a number of tips on your responsibilities as a TF, managing your time, etc. The handbook also contains a sample section outline and tips for the first days in class.


GETTING TF POSITIONS, PAY, ETC

TF LIFE IN GENERAL

TF RESOURCES

MISCELLANEOUS


GETTING TF POSITIONS, PAY, ETC

  • How many semesters am I required to teach?
    The department requires that you teach the equivalent of one semester with a 1/2-time TF position before graduating. Beyond that, the amount of teaching you have to do will typically depend on your financial need and on other sources of funding you have. Keep in mind, though, that having solid teaching experience can be valuable when you are applying for jobs.
  • How do I apply for a TF position?
    At the beginning of every semester, the department sends an e-mail application form to all graduate students. On this form, you can list the courses you would prefer to teach. The department will make every effort to find a teaching position for every graduate student who needs one (and generally succeeds).
  • Who assigns teaching jobs in the department?
    The Director of Undergraduate Studies, David Morin (morin@physics.harvard.edu), is in charge of the TF assignments.
  • What is the standard type of TF appointment (1/2-time, 1/4-time...)?
    A 1/2-time (typically two sections per week in the elementary courses, 20 hours work per week averaged over the entire five-month semester) appointment is standard; 1/4-time (10 hours per week) appointments are also used, e.g. for courses with small enrollments. A 1/2-time appointment is actually, and somewhat confusingly, a full position in the sense that it gives you a full salary.
  • I would like to teach a specific course - how can I arrange that?
    The best way is to contact the professor who will be teaching the course before the appointments are made and explain why you would like to TF the class - faculty often make requests for a specific TF. You should also list your preferences on the TF application form.
  • Can I lose my TF job if fewer students than expected sign up for the class?
    No. Initial assignments are always made based on estimated enrollment, and adjustments are always made a week or so into the term. The worst that can happen is a reassignment to another course with more students than expected.
  • When can we get a grader for my course?
    There is no general rule, because it depends on enrollment and how the faculty member wants to run the class. If enrollment warrants adding teaching staff, in some circumstances an additional TF will be requested, in other circumstances graders will be requested. For the department's rules on how many hours you are required to work as a TF, look here.
  • How much does a TF positions pay?
    For AY 2012-2013, a 1/2-time appointment (which is what most people have) pays $2,200 month, and a 1/4-time appointment pays half that. Senior TFs (G3+) get slightly more. The amount is adjusted for inflation etc. every year. These stipends are taxable. Your tuition and fees are covered as part of the fellowship in proportion to the appointment, e.g. 100% for a regular 1/2-time TF appointment.
  • Who deals with pay questions?
    The Graduate Program Administrator.
  • Can I tech the first year and postpone my Purcell Fellowship?
    No - you cannot teach your first year.
  • Can I teach over the summer?
    The Physics Department is asked to provide TFs for one Summer School physics course. These appointments involve daily lectures and sections, but in return pay two months' normal salary for one month's work (about 40 hours per week). However, there are only very few TF positions available for these courses, so you are well advised to look for other possible sources of summer funding (e.g., working for a professor).
  • Can I still teach if I have an external scholarship?
    That depends on the rules of the external funding agency. If you are wishing to teach, check with them well in advance and get their permission in writing.
  • Can I still teach if I receive funding from a professor?
    Certainly, but in any particular situation at the pleasure of your advisor. Some groups expect their students to teach every other semester, or equivalently 1/4-time for both semesters. The department regards teaching as an important part of a graduate students preparation for the future. Specific arrangements should be worked out with the professor.
  • Can I teach more than one class per semester?
    Students are not allowed to hold what would be a full time job (two 1/2-time appointments), but one student could hold two 1/4-time appointments in advanced graduate courses with small enrollments.
  • Can I TF outside the department?
    Yes, under certain circumstances. Because the department pays your full tuition when you teach, it prefers that your teaching service benefits the department or its faculty. This routinely includes teaching for courses in other departments that are being given by Physics faculty, e.g. in the Core or in the DEAS. Teaching outside the department that does not benefit the department or its faculty may be regarded as an RA, i.e. the faculty or department obtaining your services may be expected to pay some or all of your tuition and fees.

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TF LIFE IN GENERAL

  • What is expected of me as a TF?
    That depends somewhat on the course you are teaching and the faculty teaching it, but generally you are expected to attend the lectures, gives section twice weekly, hold office hours, and grade homework and exams/midterms. If you are a first-time TF, you are also required to attend a microteaching session and have one of your sections filmed (see below). FAS also expects you to maintain a minimum Q score of 3 out of 5 (see below).
  • What is microteaching and what is it good for?
    Microteaching is "teaching-simulation", meant to boost your confidence before you teach for real for the first time. In brief, you get to "teach" for 10 minutes in front of some graduate student colleagues and a teaching consultant from the Bok Center (see below). Afterwards, you discuss how it went - all with the sole purposes of giving you confidence when you meet your real students. There is more information on the Bok Center homepage. The department requires that you attend a microteaching session before you start teaching your first class - David Morin will automatically inform you about this.
  • Do I have to have a section filmed - and why?
    The department requires that you have a full section filmed in your first semester of teaching. This requires moving a section of your choice to the Bok Center rooms in the Science Center - you will automatically be reminded of this. After the taping, you will view the tape with a Bok Center teaching consultant and have a chance to discuss how things are going. The sole purpose of the taping is to help you improve your teaching: although watching yourself teaching can be unnerving, it is actually immensely useful. The tape and the feedback you get stay between you and the Bok Center consultant; it is not forwarded to the department or shown to others (unless you explicitly OK it).
  • I am worried that my English is not good enough for teaching. What can I do?
    The Bok Center runs special courses and workshops to help non-native speakers improve their English skills for teaching: for a description, look here. You can also contact Virginia Maurer at the Bok Center, who is in charge of this program (vmaurer@fas).
  • How many hours a week does teaching require?
    That can vary significantly depending on the course and the time of year. The official workload for a 1/2-time appointment (which is what most people have) is 20 hours per week, 10 for a 1/4-time appointment. If you are spending more than that over an extended period, you should talk to the professor you teach for and discuss the extra time with the Laboratory Director ( send email ).
  • Teaching seems to taking up all my time - what can I do?
    Teaching can easily become overwhelming, especially if you are just starting as a TF. The best way to avoid teaching stress is to get organized and to make sure to set fair boundaries for yourself and your students. There are a number of helpful tips in the Physics TF guide. You might also want to talk to one of the department teaching consultants.
  • I have problems with the professor I am teaching for, but I do not feel comfortable discussing them with him/her directly - who can I talk to?
    You can talk with Graduate Program Administrator and/or contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Prof. Subir Sachdev (send email). You can also talk to one of the Physics Department's teaching consultants.

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TF RESOURCES

  • What is the Bok Center and what can it do for me?
    The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning (bokcenter.fas.harvard.edu) is devoted to improving undergraduate teaching across the university. It organizes the two yearly teaching conferences, provides materials relevant to teaching (such as tip-sheets) and runsvarious workshops(e.g., helping non-native English-speakers improve their English for teaching). The Center also runs micro-teaching sessions and videotapes section (see below). To get in touch with the Center, you can either visit it in person on the 3rd floor of the Science Center, or check out the website (which has a host of useful material).
  • Who are the teaching consultants and what can they do for me?
    The department teaching consultants are physics graduate students who work for the Bok Center to improve teaching, help physics TFs, and also serve as liaisons to the Bok Center (see above). When you conduct your microteaching session or review a taped section, these are usually the people you do it with. You can contact them if you have any questions or concerns about teaching or if you want to know more about the Bok Center and its resources. The names and contact details for the current teaching fellows can be found on our TF Teaching Consultants page.
  • What are Departmental TFs (resident TFs) and what can they do form me?
    Departmental TFs are full-time teaching consultants, who are hired and paid by the Bok Center. They do many of the same things as the teaching consultants, but they also offer more direct support to TFs: e.g., by running "office hours" for TFs and collecting and distributing information (these web pages, for instance, are a Departmental TF's project).
  • Where do I get the Physics TF Handbook?
    Right here on this very website! If you are TFing for the first time, you will also receive a paper copy.
  • I am graduating and need to put together a teaching portfolio. Where can I get help?
    The Bok Center has a helpful page with tips for creating a teaching portfolio and answering teaching-related questions in interviews. The Office of Career Service also has general information on finding jobs and preparing for job interviews.

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MISCELLANEOUS

  • Can I write letters of recommendation for my students and, if so, how should I do it?
    It is not uncommon that students ask TFs for recommendations, especially for minor scholarships etc. This is perfectly fine, though you might want to check (e.g. with a professor) that a TF recommendation is indeed appropriate in the given case. Writing a good letter of recommendation will take some thought and effort, but it is a useful skill to have. There are two very good tip-sheets on how to do this on this page (look under "Recommendations for students") which deal with all aspects of the process (from the Bok Center).
  • What is the Q?
    The Q guide lists all undergraduate and graduate courses taught at Harvard and evaluates them based on questionnaire responses from students who have taken these courses. The questionnaires are also used to evaluate professors and TFs. All undergraduate and graduate courses must collect Q scores from the students.
  • What happens to my Q scores and how do they matter?
    Your Q scores will be sent to the FAS and the department. If your score is 4.5 or above (out of 5), you are automatically awarded a Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching by the Bok Center (see above) - a nice embellishment for your CV. Also, a high Q score might help win the departmental teaching prize. Conversely, if your Q score for a given semester goes below 3 (which is a very rare occurrence!), FAS will get in touch with the department and demand that you take steps to improve your teaching. Often, changing just a few things can make a big difference. However, should you receive two Q-scores below 3, you will be barred from teaching.
  • Are there any Teaching Prizes?
    Yes, several. If your Q score is above is above 4.5, you also automatically get a Q Teaching Certificate (see above). The department hands out the White Teaching Prize every year to a physics TF, based on nomination from professors. Finally, there is also the campus-wide Levenson Prize which is awarded once a year, based on student nominations.
  • What is the Physics Question Center (PQC)?
    The PQC used to be a "help-clinic" for student in the introductory physics courses. However, due to the changed structure of those courses, the PQC is no longer needed and hence it no longer exists.
  • I did not find an answer to my question on this list - what now?
    If your question was about "official matters", the Graduate Program Administrator often has the answer or can direct you to somebody who does. She is also a great person to go to with confidential questions. For practical tips and questions about teaching resources, you can always get in touch with one of the teaching consultants, who will be happy to answer your questions. If you feel that your question (and subsequent answer) should be added to this FAQ, just mail it to any of the teaching consultants.

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