Jonghee Kim

Jonghee Kim

PhD Student/College of Social Work


Needs of Graduate Teaching Assistants in Higher Education

Faculty Mentor: Donna Harp Ziegenfuss, Ed.D Associate Librarian, Assistant Head of Scholarship and Education Services

Graduate teaching assistantships can be a positive resource for universities, faculty members, and students. Through graduate teaching assistantships, colleges or universities can reduce a financial burden to hire full-time professors (Weidert, Wendorf, Gurung, & Filz, 2012). Additionally, colleges or universities expect a decrease in teaching workload for faculty members (Park, 2004; Weidert et al., 2012) by allowing graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) to cover administrative paper work, checking attendance, preparing class materials, proctoring an exam, grading assignments, and leading small discussions in class. The advantages affect students as well. According to Muzaka (2009), students may more easily access to GTAs than to faculty in order to ask basic questions in regard with class requirements and further explanations on class contents. Students also can learn from different perspectives and approaches by having GTAs (Muzaka, 2009; Park, 2002). In addition, graduate teaching assistant positions can be a platform that GTAs transit from graduate students to instructors while developing their professional identities. In turn, many graduate schools in the United States hire graduate students as GTAs. However, research consonantly reveals that most GTAs are engaged in classes without an appropriate teaching philosophy, instructional strategies, or teaching experiences because of lack of systematic training (Cho, Kim, Sviniki, & Decker, 2011; Fairbrother, 2012). Lack of these preparations hinders GTAs sense of self-efficiency as a teacher and increases the challenges that GTAs encounter such as class management, teaching concerns, student evaluation/grading, student engagement, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the GTAs’ needs related to support and teaching skills in order to nurture them to be competent instructors.



Cho, Y., Kim, M., Sviniki, M. D., & Decker, M. L. (2011). Exploring teaching concerns and characteristics of graduate teaching assistants. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(3), 267-279.

Fairbrother, H. (2012). Creating Space: Maximising the potential of the Graduate Teaching Assistant role.Teaching in Higher Education, 17(3), 353-358.

Muzaka, V. (2009). The niche of graduate teaching assistant (GTAs): Perceptions and reflections. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(1), 1-12.

Park, C. (2004). The graduate teaching assistant (GTA): Lessons from North American experience. Teaching in Higher Education, 9, 349–361.

Weidert, J. M., Wendorf, A. R., Gurung, R. A. R., & Filz, T. (2012). A survey of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. College Teaching, 60, 95-103.


This pilot study is designed to explore the needs related to support and teaching skills of GTAs across disciplines. To better understand their desires from their own perspectives, qualitative research methods were utilized. The eligible participants for this study (1) were a doctoral student at the University of Utah, and (2) had had at least one semester of GTA teaching experience. Through three focus groups and four individual interviews, total 21 participants were participated in the study during March and April, 2015. Each focus group interview took about 90 minutes and was audio-taped and transcribed; individual interviews were conducted via email. Participants were asked about their main roles as GTAs; training and support they had received before and during GTAs; challenges and needs to become professional instructors. The findings of this study will be presented in the 2015 Annual Teaching Symposium at the University of Utah.


This study will help graduate schools better understand what common desires GTAs have. Moreover, the findings of this study can be a foundation for further quantitative research to generalize the experiences, concerns, and needs of GTAs. Comprehending their needs will navigate colleges or universities to construct tactical strategies not only to mitigate challenges GTAs encounter, but also to mentor them as competent teachers with high level of teaching capabilities. This research will result in developing and advancing GTAs’ teaching abilities will positively influence the quality of classes for students that they teach.