What is a Teaching Assistant or Tutor Marker at SFU?

Teaching Assistants (TAs) do a variety of tasks, from marking assignments to running tutorials and labs. The job is designed as graduate student support and plays a key role in SFU’s educational model. Many lower-division classes have hundreds of students, so a TA running a tutorial, rather than the professor, is the primary point of contact with the students outside of class.

Tutor Markers (TMs) are the primary point of contact for distance education courses (CODE courses). Most interaction with students happens by email or through Canvas, and TMs typically do the vast majority of the marking for distance courses.

Finding upcoming jobs:

All positions for TAs/TMs are posted on the Monday of the tenth week prior to the start of the semester. Postings are found on the Dean of Graduate Studies centralized job posting website, as well as on departmental websites. Only those positions which must be re-posted will appear after the start of the posting period.

How long are postings available?

All positions are posted for two weeks (exception: some re-posted positions when there is insufficient time for a two-week posting period). If a position in your department has to be re-posted, you will be sent an email advising you of the re-posting.

How do I apply?

In your department

If you are applying for a position in your own department, you submit one application in which you list your preferences for particular positions. You will be considered for all available positions.  Your application should explain the knowledge you have which would be sufficient to interpret the course material for students.

In other departments

To be considered for a particular position you must have applied for that position.

How do departments determine successful applicants?

The Collective Agreement sets out the priority for accessing work in Article XIII, Section F.  Here is the order of priority for that work:

  1. Graduate students registered in the department
  2. Graduate students registered in other departments
  3. Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs/UTMs) or External Teaching Assistants (ETAs/ETMs)

The priority is fulfilled if you are awarded five base units (or fewer if requested). If you do not receive five base units prior to positions being re-posted, then you will have priority for the re-posted positions.

Inside each priority group, how do they determine who gets what course?

The department has to make all reasonable efforts to apply candidates’ stated preferences. In addition, the department must publish a priority system explaining how they will choose among applicants within a priority group when there are insufficient positions available.

How can we be sure that this system is properly applied?

TSSU can ask the department for a spreadsheet detailing the applicants and the positions awarded. If the spreadsheet reveals that the department has not followed the rules, we can file a grievance. If you think that this may be happening in a department, please contact chief_steward@tssu.ca. Please note that your name does not have to be connected to any grievance that may arise.

Who can be a TA/TM?

The jobs are posted publicly, but because they’ve been designed as graduate student support, graduate students get priority access for jobs. Currently, about 80% of TA/TM jobs go to graduate students, while the remaining 20% of jobs go to undergraduate students and other applicants.

How many hours does a TA/TM work?

The pay for TAs/TMs is a salary system with a maximum number of hours of work per “base unit” (BU). One BU corresponds to a maximum of 42 hours of work over a semester, including holiday time. Since workload fluctuates during the semester, a good rule of thumb is to expect a range of 2-5 hours of work per week per BU. All TAs/TMs should track their hours, as any work over the salaried amount must be compensated by the department. TSSU has logbooks that can be used to keep track of hours worked throughout the semester.

Why should I be a TA/TM as a graduate student?

Excluding scholarships, which directly fund your research, being a TA/TM is the best source of income for most SFU graduate students. TA/TM jobs can vary from three to 20 hours per week and are paid on a salaried basis with some significant benefits.

Category Description Salary per BU Scholarship per BU* Total per BU Max hours per BU**
GTA1/GTM1 Master’s student TA/TM $1,031 $144  $1,175  42
GTA2/GTM2 PhD student TA/TM $1,031 $361  $1,392 42
ETA/ETM or UTA/UTM External or Undergraduate TA/TM $1,031  $1,031 42

*less unworked prep: 0.17 BUs for most appointments, but can be 0.05 BUs (eg: subsequent appointment in a mathematics/statistics workshop) or 0 BUs (eg: marking-only appointment)

**one BU comprises a maximum 42 hours of work (1.1 hours of which are set aside for statutory holiday compensation)

All TAs are page a wage around $25 an hour. In addition TAs/TMs who are Master’s students (GTA1/GTM1) receive a scholarship top up, while TAs/TMs who are PhD students (GTA2/GTM2) receive a scholarship top-up that is almost 2.5 x what Master’s students receive.  In addition to the salary, international students will get about $300 per semester in savings, as BC Medical Services Plan premiums are paid by the Employer when you TA/TM (more information and how to enrol in group coverage are available here) and a substantial reimbursement for the cost of Guard.me medical insurance is also owing. TAs & TMs also have the right to defer tuition, paying a small amount from each paycheque throughout the semester rather than the entire tuition amount at the beginning of the semester.

My department has very few jobs — can I still be a TA/TM?

In the strike of 2012, TSSU members won the right for graduate students to have priority in departments other than their own. Within your own department you have the highest priority, and in other departments you have the second highest priority. A graduate student may be qualified to teach in many other departments: for example, an Engineering graduate student may be qualified to be a TA/TM in Physics, Chemistry, Math, and Engineering; A Sociology graduate student may be qualified to be a TA/TM in English, History, Labour Studies, and Sociology.

Do I need to be a subject expert to be a TA/TM?

No, as a TA/TM your job is to help relay and interpret the course material for the students in the class. Having a general background in the discipline, or related discipline, is often sufficient to be very successful as a TA. Many TA jobs include time to attend lecture as part of the duties.

I’m in a course-based program like M.Eng, M.Sc. Finance, M.B.A, etc. — can I still be a TA/TM?

Yes — graduate students have priority regardless of the type of program in which they’re registered. Graduate students from applied programs, like those listed above, have a lot to bring to a classroom and should be valued members of the teaching staff at SFU.

What if my department says we shouldn’t be a TA/TM?

While there might be good reasons to listen to your department, some departments may try to convince you that you shouldn’t be a TA/TM in order to save money. If enough graduate students don’t apply, then the department can hire external or undergraduate TAs/TMs for cheaper. If your department advises you not to apply for a TA/TM position, be aware that they may have a conflict of interest in the matter.

If you have any questions, or run into issues getting a job as a TA/TM, you can always contact TSSU.