TA compensation needs to change at UTD

Photo by Oluwaseun Adeyemi | Mercury Staff

UTD teaching assistants, or TAs, do not get compensated like every other school in the UT system does, and that needs to change.

Students who successfully complete a course at UTD can become a TA because they have proven that they have enough knowledge to help other students succeed. Other schools in the UT system, such as UT Austin, UT Arlington and UT San Antonio pay all their teaching assistants regardless of what class they are assisting or what degree they are pursuing through either an hourly wage or monthly stipend. However, at UTD, the compensation changes depending on what degree a TA is seeking and the class they are assisting.

At UTD, masters and graduate students get paid regardless of the class they are assisting; however, they each get paid differently depending on the funding of the school they are employed under. Undergraduates only get paid for certain classes like physics labs, but for a neuroscience lecture or biology lab, they get compensated through three higher level credits. Varun Thavanampalli, a junior neuroscience and biology major, said that as a TA for Integrative Neuroscience, he is only compensated with three higher level credits but didn’t mind since he enjoyed the class.

“TAing consists of two main responsibilities,” Thavanampalli said. “It’s keeping up with the content and then teaching … I know for other professors that I’ve heard of, there’s a lot more stuff and more responsibilities. I don’t get compensated, I just kind of do it for fun. My main compensation is … upper-level credit hours … if I wanted to get paid, I would go to the SSS.”

Students are required to work around 6 to 20 hours a week as a TA, and for undergrads with rigorous course work, credits are not much of a compensation at all. This is because students typically have to pay tuition — depending on the credits they’re taking — and ultimately, it’s like they are paying to become a TA. In sharp contrast, at UT Austin, students get at least a minimum of $9.00 per hour for being a TA. Junior neuroscience major Aakash Paidesetty was a biology lab TA and feels that this method of compensation is unfair to students.

“A main problem that I feel that this compensation for credits brings about is the fact that people who need the money essentially and need access to these professors and close relationships can’t really afford to TA,” Paidesetty said. “Because essentially, they are spending time being a TA when they could be making money. So it’s not really possible for lower-income students, so being a TA is not really a practical option for gaining professional experience.”

Ph.D. students do get paid, but the stipend is not nearly as much as at other schools. At UT Austin, Graduate students get paid around $23k to $57k annually for being a graduate assistant. At UTD, for a graduate physics lab TA, there are two forms of compensation: tuition reimbursement, which is about $8,000 per semester, or a salary of around $22k per year. Angel Romero, a third-year Ph.D. physics major and current Mechanics lab TA, feels that UTD’s compensation is insufficient compared to other schools.

“Right now, for me specifically, my TA job doesn’t even cover my rent.” Romero said. “When you’re talking in the retrospect of ‘we’re here doing research and trying to finish our degree’ it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. Because we are trying to get done in a timely manner, but we also want to get paid enough to be able to make ends meet.”

Ph.D. students play a critical role at UTD, as they help students while also participate in research, all of which benefits the our school’s ranking in the long run. However, our school can’t seem to make ends meet even for those who put so much effort in.

It isn’t fair that only some UTD students receive payment as TAs while not all undergraduates do. Compensation for TAs should not depend on the degree they are seeking — it should depend on the rigor of the class they’re teaching. The course that someone may be working as a TA for only involves the scope of that course — you don’t need a Ph.D. to help freshmen in their Physics I: Mechanics lab. It makes sense for students who TA for different courses to get compensated different amounts depending on hours worked, but everyone who works deserves pay.

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