A Week in the Life of a (Lead) GTA

Teaching can be a big-time commitment when you're working towards your PhD. I kept track of my teaching-related work during an average week to give an insight into how much time it takes to be a GTA and how it fits around my other work.



Being involved in teaching to any degree is often a big-time commitment. With everything else going on during your PhD with data collection, training, journal clubs, conferences , paper writing and more it can feel like adding anything else in might be too much. I've spoken before about my love of teaching, the skills you learn and the benefits of teaching. Here, I'd like to share how my role as the lead GTA for the MSc Psychology course at Cardiff University fits into my average week as a 2nd year PhD student.

Checking my emails on Monday morning and I see the timetable for the masters' course has just been finalised. I then realise it disrupts my seminar plans: The previous draft of the timetable would have meant the students had a lecture on stereotypes the day before we have a seminar on it, giving them an introduction to the topic and a chance to do some reading before our debate. The new timetable means the lecture would on Friday, after the seminar. I email the course and module lead to check I'm understanding correctly, and once this is confirmed we work to come up with a solution that involves swapping a couple of seminars around to fit better with the lectures.

I check over the resources we'll now be using this week, update my GTA team about the changes on Teams and send out the materials they'll need. I also update both my seminars groups with a post on teams, give them their copies of the seminar slides for this week and highlight any prep they need to do. I copy this message to my GTAs so they can use it as a template to message their groups.

I also organise a meeting for my team at 9 am tomorrow morning to run through the materials and crowd-source ideas for improvements. I try to do this every week so everyone is comfortable with the content and we can make edits to help the seminars be as engaging and accessible as possible. This has taken about an hour to sort out in between replying to other emails and generally getting set up for the week.

I carry on with the rest of my work until about 5 pm. The last thing on my to-do list for the day is to make sure I'm comfortable with the content for the two seminars this week so I can lead the meeting tomorrow morning. This takes about half an hour. After this, I log off for the day.

Time spent on GTA work: 30 minutes of admin, 30 minutes of preparation.

It's 9am and, coffee in hand, I'm logging on to my team's weekly check-in. I run through the content of both seminars for this week with my GTAs, fielding questions as I go. At the end, we share ideas of things we can add or edit to encourage more discussion and engagement from the students. The meeting lasts about half an hour and I leave feeling confident that my team are happy with the content they need to deliver.

The rest of the working day is dedicated to my PhD research.

After dinner, I make sure I have the seminar content on a memory stick and pack a rucksack ready to go into University tomorrow to lead my first set of seminars.

Time spent on GTA work: 30 minutes of preparation.

It's just after 8am and I'm out of the house, walking to the psychology building to lead my first seminar at 9am. I'm grateful that I was organised enough to pack my bag the evening before because I am very much not a morning person and I'm running a little bit late today. With a travel-cup of tea and brisk pace, I make it to my seminar room at 8.45 and have time to set everything up and make a fresh cup of tea before my first students arrive. Despite it being early, my 9am class this year are very bubbly and chatty - I love the energy they bring to every session. The first session goes smoothly and I usher my first group out, refresh my cup of tea and welcome in my 10am class. After two hours of teaching about data visualisation, I'm feeling happy about how both sessions went if not a little worn out. I walk around the block on the way to my office to enjoy the sun and recharge. Once in my office, I fill in the excel document I use to keep track of attendance and email the couple of students who didn't attend to check everything's okay.

Time spent on GTA work: 2 hours of teaching, 15 minutes of admin.

Same as yesterday, I'm up and out of the house at 8am walking in to lead another pair of seminars. I'm very grateful for the unusually sunny weather these past couple of days. I arrive a little earlier today at 8.40 and make a cup of tea on my way up to the seminar room but find a student has beaten me there. We have a nice chat while I set everything up for teaching. The first group slowly trickle in, everyone arriving before 9am and we have a general chat about life, their course and early mornings before starting on the content. Today's seminars are an introduction to an online survey software that the students will have to use for some research projects. It's a lot of showing them a few steps and then walking over to different people to troubleshoot things that aren't working as expected. Luckily for me, the same kind of issues crop up with my second group so at least I'm slightly more prepared about how to fix things. Generally, both seminars go well and everyone walks out feeling confident that they'll be able to gather and access the data they need for their future projects - mission accomplished. Today, I stay for an extra 15 minutes and update my attendance tracker and email absent students. After that, I head home.

Time spent on GTA work: 2 hours teaching, 15 minutes of admin.

I look at the overview documents I created before term started and begin to draft a message to my students about next weeks seminars. Looking through the seminar plans, I post a message giving an overview of what we'll be doing in both sessions next week, what preparation they need to do, and I attach their copies of the slides I'll be using. Of course, I wish them a good weekend as well. I copy the same message to my GTAs for them to send on to their own students, share the materials we'll be using and begin to organise a time for our check-in next week. Once our meeting is booked in I am done with GTA work for the week, ready to start all over again on Monday!

Time spent on GTA work: 30 minutes of preparation.

Based on this average week,
I spend about 6 1/2 hours each week working on GTA-related tasks and delivering teaching. Of this time:
4 hours is delivering the seminars.
1 1/2 hours preparing the materials, familiarizing myself with the content and running through it with my GTAs.
1 hour spent on admin (filling in attendance, messaging students, liaising with course and module leads).

However, there are some caveats to this guide:

The amount of time spent will vary depending on your role. As a lead GTA, I spend more time on admin-related tasks than I did last year. I also spent two full working days preparing materials and organising the structure of the first semesters content before the start of the academic year. Normal GTAs don't have to do this so will have to work fewer hours because of this.

The time of year will also impact your working hours. My teaching finishes in April and doesn't start again until October, aside from the odd email to plan for the upcoming year. That gives me almost 6 months of the year where I'm not working on teaching-related tasks. Similarly, the master's students I teach have time off for Christmas and Easter, meaning I only teach for 20 weeks of the year. There's some admin and preparation I'll need to do around that, but I spend most of the year not teaching, giving me plenty of time to focus on my PhD.

Additionally, even within the 20 teaching weeks, the work isn't evenly spread. Thankfully, my marking load is reduced this year due to smaller seminar group sizes. But, I'm still expected to mark multiple pieces of coursework throughout the year. I know the dates of this marking well in advance so I can plan and accomodate for the temporary spike in workload. Similarly, my seminars are not evenly spread. I repeat two different seminars twice in the first semester (4 teaching hours total), whereas in the second semester I only repeat one the seminar (2 teaching hours total). Fewer seminars to prepare for also reduces the associated preparation and admin time.

Very grateful for the unusually sunny weather and beautiful views on my way to work this morning!

Speeding along to campus with my tea in hand!