This past quarter I was the teaching assistant for the MCB-162; and upper division human genetics course here at UC Davis. This was my second time as a TA and overall enjoyed my role in the class. This class was about 60% the size of the previous class I TA’ed for which was nice in terms of reducing the amount of grading required and being able to spend more time with individual students during office hours.
Despite my best efforts attendance at office hours was still fairly low with 3-4 semi-regular students and sporadic attendance from the rest of the class. I offered office hours both in Zoom and in person but as the quarter wore on those students who did attend increasingly did so via Zoom. Attendance peaked whenever I advertised preparing “practice problems” before an exam. Even though the practice problems I wrote were really just me reading through the lecture slides and quickly converting them into multiple choice questions (possible chatGPT automation opportunity?). Students seem to be much more highly motivated to attend reviews that were centered around these practice problems then question and answer type sessions. I found that making my own practice problem sets got students in the door and eventually asking the questions they really needed answered regardless of the content of the actual practice problems so I continued doing this for all exams.
Midway through the course the instructor, Dr. Burgess, asked if I wanted to give one of the lectures. I accepted and gave a lecture on the basic application Bayes theorem in human genetics and medical diagnostics. For my first undergrad lecture, I was really happy with how it went and got overall good feedback from students. If you are interested you can look at the lecture slides at this link.
I think overall two quarters of TAing and especially this last quarter have increasingly alerted me to my interest in teaching. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with students and being able to write and design my own course materials. Dr. Burgess had more than reasonable expectations and because of this I didn’t feel like my TA duties were significantly detracting from the work I was doing in the lab. I think to continue being interested in teaching in the future and outside of graduate school I would need to better understand the bureaucracy and possible annoying realities of full-time instruction. I would also want to be in a setting where I had a high degree of control over the course material.
Lastly, I just wanted to highlight some of the written feedback I got from students this quarter. Overall student’s had albeit a bit vague positive general feedback.
"Ethan was great."
"I liked his willingness to help the students understand the material."
Student’s had more specific feedback on my lecture which again I was happy to see was very positive.
"I thought Ethan’s lecture on Bayes Theorem was very good. Made the topic understandable and provided examples for each application."
"The TA did a great job delivering the Bayes theorem lecture and was accessible to answer students’ questions."
"I liked the one lecture he gave on Bayes’ Theorem. I had actually just covered it in a different class but we didn’t really go into detail on it so the concept behind it wasn’t very clear. But I liked how Ethan explained it with the split boxes, that visual explanation made so much more sense."
And many comments referenced the practice materials I prepared for my pre-exam office hour sessions.
"The TA was very helpful in clarifying confusions and often provided students outside resources to help them understand concepts. He also supplemented the course with review material that was extremely helpful for exams. Ethan is a real homie."
"Ethan was very enthusiastic and encouraging to get people to attend office hours. It was clear he genuinely cared about the students performance, and took a lot of efforts to help us in the exams. His study questions were very helpful too."
"Ethan wrote practice questions before each exam that helped me understand what I needed to study more before the exams"
"Ethan was really nice because he made practice exams for us. I think that really helped."
I did have one negative comment which I got a laugh out of
"Do not make office hours too early in the morning."
Noted. One of my office hours sessions started at 8 so I could still get into lab at a reasonable time in the morning.
Granted you have no actual evidence that I did not just make these all up. So you’ll just have to take my word that this is actual anonymous student feedback.