Information & Positions for TA's in Biological Sciences -- 2018-2019


General Information -- See below for details on Individual Courses. Last update 08/13/2018 05:05 PM


In general, TA's do whatever the instructor needs to keep the class going. This can involve (among other things) maintaining web sites, copying articles, grading exams and/or homework assignments, running recitations or conducting labs. The following details are intended to indicate which tasks are usually done by the TA's in specific courses. In most cases, the descriptions were written in consultation with the current instructor or TA. In any particular semester, TA's in any given course may be expected to do somewhat more or less than is indicated. The estimates of the hours it takes to do the various TA jobs was obtained from the TA’s of previous years.


The description above is from the instructor’s or the ‘teaching’ point of view. There is also the student’s or the ‘learning’ point of view. Looking at it from the receiving end (the students’ position), the TA does whatever the students need to help them learn the material and do well on the assignments. In addition to running the regular recitation and/or lab sessions, this can involve holding review sessions & office hours, making handouts, and answering email questions. In other words, generally acting as a coach and filling in the breach between the expectations of the instructor and those of the student.


Feedback from former TA’s indicates that the most successful TA’s – the ones who enjoy it the most – are the ones who put the most into it and treat it as an opportunity, not a burden. To quote a graduate student who has finished her teaching:


My one wisdom about teaching is that it is what you make of it -- the students react to the vibe that the teacher (here, the TA) puts out. That is, if they think that you don't want to be there and this is a big chore that you have to do, that's exactly how they will think of it.  The consequence is that everyone has a miserable time.  So, if I could tell prospective TA’s anything I would say that they should learn to love it, or at least like it, and everything else will just fall in to place.  They will make connections with the students that are interested in learning, and they will get the nice feeling of making someone understand something that they should care about, as they are dedicating their lives to it.


Graduate students are generally expected to teach for 2 semesters and are encouraged to do the teaching during their 2nd year. (Graduate students may act solely as graders for one term, but not both.) Graduate students may start their TAing in the second term of their first year if they prefer, and positions are available. They may put off completion until their 3rd year if they prefer to teach the same course twice.  Some, but not all, students (& faculty) feel it is a good idea to teach the same course twice. To quote two senior graduate students:


I would have to say that TA-ing the same course twice was quite valuable. There are many things learned from the 2nd time around, mostly since one is not as focusing on learning and understanding the actual material, but more on the teaching aspect and how to help the students better.


I found TA-ing for the same course really rewarding, and I would recommend it.  I think the first semester of TA-ing is a little overwhelming and hard, since you don't really know how to interact with the students or exactly what is expected of you, or the material that well yet.  After you do it once, you get the hang of it and get much better at it, so I think the second time around you are a better TA.


Students may not put off beginning their TA assignment until the 3rd year unless there is a really good reason. (If you want to put it off until the 3rd year, you need to get the permission of your lab mentor and the director of the graduate program.) It is inevitable that some teaching assignments are more time consuming than others. With only a two semester requirement, it is difficult to balance the assignments so that everyone does exactly the same amount of work. A few courses involve such extra heavy responsibilities and/or time commitments that they count double. Students who TA these courses are required to do so for only one term. Other courses involve teaching responsibilities that are somewhat lighter or heavier than average. Students who do one of the “heavier” courses may do a “lighter” course or act as a grader during the other term.   Alternatively, students may chose to teach a course, even a relatively heavy one, twice, if they feel they will learn more from doing so (and if their research supervisor agrees.) 

            Opinion among both grad. students and faculty is divided on the optimal choice of teaching assignments – what you will chose to do will depend on how much you value teaching experience and the preferences of your lab supervisor. To quote the same two senior grad. students again:


Of course, I do feel that the intro bio TA assignment is fairly time and effort-intensive, and if only 2 semesters were required of all graduate students, one semester of this class and a grading assignment would be ideal.


  I personally wouldn't have wanted a grading job- two semesters of real TA-ing was great, and three was fine too (although, maybe a bit much)



Details on Individual Courses -- see course web sites for more information on course content

Note: prefixes for all courses were changed in Fall 2016. The new prefixes are used below.  All undergrad classes are now UNXXXX, and advanced classes for both graduate and advanced undergraduate students are GUXXXX. Classes intended primarily for graduate students are numbered GR5000 or above.

Lab Courses


UN2501 (spring & fall) Intro bio Lab (Lise Hazen, ceh2). TA's attend weekly TA meeting, and run one 4 hr. lab per week. TA's do some set up, direct student clean up, and hold office hrs 1-2 hrs per week. Also do grading of quizzes, lab practical, final exam and lab reports. Lab includes dissection of fetal pig, genetic experiments and biochemistry/mol. bio. experiments. Experienced TA's may give introductory talks for lab sessions. (Estimate of time by TA = 10 hrs/week + 12 hr per term grading exams.) Most TAs for this course are undergraduates, but interested grad students are welcome.


UN3040 (spring) Molecular Biology Laboratory (Alice Heicklen, ah2289). The lab gives the students (12 students maximum)  hands-on experience with frequently used molecular biology techniques such as PCR, gDNA extraction, restriction digest, gel electrophoresis, sequence analysis, site-directed mutagenesis & SDS-Page gels. TA demonstrates techniques & bioinformatics software, grades protocols (approximately 7) and prepares reagents. The lab counts as one semester of the TA requirement. 

UN3050 (not currently offered)  Project laboratory in protein biochemistry (John Hunt, jfh21). TA's help with preparation of materials, running of lab and guiding student experiments. Usually there are several TA's. Since lab is intensive (2-3 full days per week), this course may count as the entire TA requirement for each of the TA’s -- alternatively there may be more TA's and job may count 'single' not 'double.'


UN3058 (spring). Project lab in microbiology (Lars Dietrich, ld2444). TA's help with preparation of materials, running of lab and guiding student experiments. Usually there are 2 TA's. This course normally counts as the entire TA requirement for each of the TAs. Contact Lars for details.  


UN3052  (fall) Project laboratory in molecular genetics (Alex Tzagoloff). Similar to 3050 or 3058 in load per TA. One TA usually does the whole semester. Considered a heavy load, so may count as entire TA requirement (if there is only 1 TA).


GR5310 (summer -- Mid May to early July) Intensive Lab in Biotechnology. TAs prepare reagents (first week only), guide experiments, provide intellectual stimulations, and grade reports. Must have basic molecular biology experience. Must understand the nature of projects and share instructor's teaching philosophy.  Contact Lili Yamasaki if you are interested; course does not always have a TA.

GU4260 (fall) Proteomics lab. Lewis Brown (

TA will learn operation of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer and help students use that instrument. Labs have a strong computational biology component; TA will set out printer and networked notebook and assist students in running specialized proteomics software in Windows environment. TA will assist in limited wet lab component. Goal of course is to teach students to be able to identify a protein from a gel spot or band. This is an opportunity to learn something about proteomics. Contact Instructor ( if you are interested.  


Introductory (Cell & Molecular) Biology


UN2005 (fall)-UN2006 (spring) or UN2401-UN2402. Introductory Biology Courses that require chemistry and cover a limited number of topics in unusual depth. First term covers biochemistry, genetics & molecular biology; Second term covers primarily eukaryotic cell biology & physiology. UN2005/6 & UN2401/2 are the same except that recitation in the  2005/6 course is required (& quiz is administered weekly) while recitation in the 2401/2 course is optional (no quiz). The students in the 2005/6 courses are mostly 2nd or 3rd year undergraduates in Columbia College, Engineering (SEAS) or General Dtudies (GS).  The students in the 2401/2 classes are mostly post-bacs (students with college degrees who have returned to school to prepare for med school).  UN2005/UN2401 is in the fall with Drs. Chasin, Jovanovic, Price & D. Mowshowitz; UN2006/UN2402 is in the spring with Drs. Mowshowitz, Price, & Heicklen. Graduate students are needed as graders, but not as TAs, as TAs are chosen from among students who have taken the class. 


  Graders handle exam papers and proctor exams. After each exam, graders help alphabetize papers, tear them up, and grade them (usually one page per grader). Then graders help reassemble exams and record grades. This is a very intensive & time-consuming job for a brief period after each exam (3-4 times per term), but there is no work in between exams, because graders are not required to come to class. It is an excellent chance to learn how to grade written responses, to sample undergraduate thinking, and to learn how a large introductory science course is run. If interested, contact Dr. Mowshowitz (dbm2) or Dr. Price (map2293).


Large Lecture Courses with Recitations &/or Office Hrs. (Some of the following courses also have other sections with different prefixes and numbers for graduate students.)


UN3004-3005. Neurobiology I & II . 3004 = cell & molecular (fall); 3005 = systems (spring).  Usually, 3004 is taught by Yang & Firestein in alternate years;  3005 is usually taught by Kelley or Yuste.   UN3004. TA's attend class, run weekly recitation which includes discussion of problem sets and journal articles. Also grade exams, maintain web page, answer student questions.

    UN3005. TA's attend class, lead discussion of papers in recitation, help write, grade and proctor exams, grade participation in recitation. (Estimate by  2 dif. TA's: 5-8 hrs per week plus 8-17 hrs/term grading.)


UN3006 Physiology (spring -- Mary Ann Price.). TAs hold office hours, proctor exams, correct exams and record grades. Prospective TA's & graders should know some physiology. If interested contact Dr. Price.

UN3031 (spring) Genetics (Iva Greenwald) -- usually needs several graders and TAs. If interested, contact Dr. Greenwald.

UN3300 (both terms) Biochemistry (Danny Nam Ho). Needs 2 to 3 TAs, depending on enrollment.

Bio-Chem UN3501 (fall). Biochemistry (Stockwell).  See Professor Stockwell if you are interested in TAing for this course.


Medium/Small Lecture Classes in Fall or Spring


UN1015 (not currently offered) -- Molecular Biology and Evolution for Nonscientists (D. Mowshowitz). TA's attend class, and generally meet weekly with the instructor. TA's run weekly discussion/problem session. TA's grade homework assignments (about every other week) and exams (about 5 short ones and one long one per term); may give a few quizzes. They hold office hours or review sessions before exams. TA's grade students in recitation based on level of understanding & participation. (Generally rated as about as difficult for a TA as 2005 = 15 hrs/week.) This course requires more patience and ability to explain (but less technical knowledge) than most TA assignments. A good job for someone with a humanities background and/or someone interested in reaching a wider audience. Being a TA in this course is a lot of work, but it provides one of the best opportunities in the department for learning how to teach undergraduates and how to reach students who are not science majors.


UN1130 (spring) -- Genes & Development. (Hazelrigg). This is a course for nonscientists. This course requires more patience and ability to explain (but less technical knowledge) than most TA assignments. A good job for someone with a humanities background and/or someone interested in reaching a wider audience. Being a TA in this course provides one of the best opportunities in the department for learning how to teach undergraduates and how to reach students who are not science majors. Contact Dr. Hazelrigg if you are interested.


GU4008 (spring) Cellular Physiology of Disease (Fernandez). Usually one TA. This course rotates with 2 other courses. Which one will be offered in spring 2019 will be listed.


UN3022 (fall) Development - (Heicklen). TA's grade article questions, hold office hours’ / review sessions, attend class and article preparation sessions. TA should have some knowledge of the aspects of development included in the course, which covers the following topics:     

How the union of egg and sperm triggers the complex cellular interactions that specify the diverse variety of cells present in multicellular organisms. Cellular and molecular aspects of reprogramming (iPS, cloning, lineage conversion, 3 parent babies, etc.), sex determination, gametogenesis, fertilization, contraception, infertility, genomic imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation, telomerase and stem cells will be explored.  Original research articles will be discussed to further the students understanding of current research in reprogramming / developmental

(fall). Biotechnology (Kalderon & Chasin). TA's attend class, run recitations, and do grading. There will be 2 TAs. Between them they will run 2 recitations per week, and grade about two thirds of the homework assignments (6-8 per term) and the exams (2 per term). TAs are key contributors and much appreciated for helping students through challenging assignments. Subject matter is practical molecular biology with advanced applications. For more details, contact Dr. Kalderon.


UN3041 Cell Biology (all). Taught by Chloe Bulinski (jcb4) -- this class is relatively large and needs several TA's. Contact the instructor if you are interested. Not offered fall 2018


UN3073 (fall). Immunology (S. Mowshowitz) -- usually needs 3-4 TAs/graders, depending on enrollment.  TA/grader needs to know some immunology.


UN3310 (spring). Virology (V. Racaniello). Contact instructor if interested.


Biol-Chem UN3512 (spring). Molecular Biology (Manley & Jia). Usually needs 2 TA's. In past, TA's helped write and grade exams; graded homework.


UN3560 (fall) Evolution in the Age of Genomics.   Guy Sella and Molly Przeworski. Usually needs 1 TA. Not offered fall 2018.

UN3779 (spring). Molecular Biology of Cancer. Needs one TA with knowledge in the area. Contact Dr. Prives (clp3). Not offered fall 2018


GU4323 (spring)  Biophysical Chemistry I. (Hunt). Needs 1 to 2 TAs.

GU4300 (fall). Drugs & Disease. Contact Lili Yamasaki if interested. TAs attend classes, hold office hours, and help in administrative duties. No grading. TAs give one or two lectures if interested.

GU4510 (spring). Genomics of Gene Regulation. (Bussemaker). Not offered fall 2018

TA's attend class, run recitations, and do grading. There will be 2 TA's. Note that this class requires a solid background in mathematics, statistics, and computer programming. Contact Harmen Bussemaker, hjb2004, if you are interested.


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