Psychology Department
Graduate Student
Teaching Guidelines


Admission to the Ph.D. program in Psychology carries with it a commitment of full financial support for five years subject only to the condition that the student is making satisfactory progress toward the doctoral degree. This position carries a fixed stipend (the same for all students) plus tuition and fees

In fulfillment of the requirement for the M.Phil. degree, all students must gain teaching experience as part of their graduate training. Moreover, teaching is regarded as essential for the student’s academic career. Thus, graduate students teach for a total of five semesters.

1. Assignments

Teaching assignments are made by the Director of Undergraduate Programs and the Director of Graduate Studies. In late April, returning students submit their preferences for the coming academic year. Most students are given their first or second preference (>85%). In making Teaching Assistant (TA) assignments, we take into account student preferences, special skills, and previous assignments, in the context of the needs of the student’s educational program and the instructional program. To ensure that both teaching load and opportunities for training are distributed equitably, all students are given two "hard" assignments (i.e., 4-pt courses involving labs or discussion sections) during their 5-year tenure as graduate students.

2. Duties

All teaching is overseen by a faculty member. Duties of teaching assistants include:

  • Attending lectures and doing assigned readings
  • Meeting with professor
  • Setting up electronic classrooms and laboratories
  • Preparation of instructional aids and web pages
  • Preparation of exams
  • Grading exams and papers
  • Holding office hours for students
  • Conducting review sections
  • Leading discussion or lab sections (4-pt courses)
  • Offering guest lectures – special occasions matching student's expertise with needs of a particular course

The number of Teaching Fellows (TFs) assigned to each course is based on anticipated enrollment together with the demands of the course and the teaching style of the instructor. For 3-pt lecture courses without discussion sections, this is typically one TF for up to 40 students, two for up to 90 students, three for up to 150 students, and four for up to 220 students. In 4-pt lecture courses with discussion sections, one TF is assigned to two sections of 15-25 students each. In 4-pt laboratory courses, one TF is assigned to each lab section of 15-20 students. When actual enrollment figures become available, some TFs may need to be reassigned.

In cases where undergraduates or postbacs serve as TA III's in lecture courses, enrollment limits should be adjusted so that no more than 40 students are added for each TA III. For instance, a course with four graduate TFs could enroll as many as 220 students, but the same course with two graduate TFs and two undergraduate TA III's would enroll only 170 (90 + 40 + 40) students, based on start-of-term enrollment figures.

3. Timing

All graduate students teach one semester each year during the five years in which they are supported. Students typically enjoy assignments, do not regard them as onerous, and seek out challenging teaching assignments. All students are fully supported for five years (stipend, tuition, and fees).

During the semester in which the students teach, they are appointed as Teaching Fellows and are supported that semester exclusively through the GSAS Teaching Fellowship program.

Guidance and Training

  • New graduate students attend an orientation session at the beginning of the academic year covering essential issues common to all courses.
  • All graduate students are encouraged to take the Teaching Practicum (G6200) offered in the department in alternate years. The Practicum website is available at
  • In addition, first-year graduate students are not expected to run a lab or discussion section until they have had more training through assisting professors under direct guidance.
  • The department maintains an online TA Manual that provides students with guidelines and practical advice. It is available at
  • All graduate students from countries whose native language is other than English must demonstrate oral and written proficiency in English or pass the International Teaching Fellows Course offered by the American Language Program.

Evaluation of Teaching Fellows and Teaching Program

  • All Teaching Fellows are evaluated by faculty at an annual meeting in which students’ teaching is discussed individually. Faculty evaluate Teaching Fellows assigned to their courses by means of an online form. In addition, all Teaching Fellows register for Supervised Teaching (G6500) and are graded by the supervising faculty member. Students receive warning in cases where teaching is substandard (rare).
  • All Teaching Fellows are encouraged to solicit feedback from students on their performance, using one of several forms that we provide. Teaching Fellows leading discussion or lab sections are also evaluated through the University’s Teaching Evaluation System. Teaching Fellows are expected to be proficient teachers and that is evident in the grades they receive in both the Practicum and later teaching assignments.
  • The department’s Teaching Practicum is evaluated by the graduate students themselves through the University’s Teaching Evaluation System.
  • Students complete a TA Activities Survey each year in which they report the amount of time spent on various TA Activities and comment on ways in which the Department can make their work as a Teaching Fellow more effective.

Grievance Procedure

Our graduate program assumes that the workload for all students should be the same (research, courses and teaching). The well-being of each student is discussed at special faculty meetings held for this purpose. The Psychology department is small enough so that all problems are easily detected and resolved in order to ensure that the treatment of Teaching Fellows is fair. In the unlikely event that a student believes that he or she is experiencing unfair treatment, he or she should bring the grievance to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies. Should the grievance not be resolved, he or she may bring it to the attention of the Department Chair and/or the Assistant Dean for Graduate Teaching at GSAS.


A note on terminology: Within the Department of Psychology, we customarily refer to graduate Teaching Fellows (TFs) as Teaching Assistants (TAs). So, in this document, the two terms are used interchangeably. When referring specifically to undergraduate or postbac Teaching Assistants, the term TA III is used.


Prepared in 2001 by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University
in collaboration with Prof. Elke Weber, Director of the Graduate Program,
Prof. Don Hood, Dept. Chair, and
Prof. Lois Putnam, Director of Undergraduate Programs and Laboratories,
Dept. of Psychology, Columbia University.

Changes to Section 2 Duties were approved by GSAS in June 2011.

©2011 Columbia University