What is a Teaching Assistant or Tutor Marker at SFU?

Teaching Assistants (TAs) do a variety of tasks from marking to running tutorials & labs. The job is designed as graduate student support and also plays a key role in SFU’s educational model. Many lower division classes have several hundred students, so the primary point of contact is the Teaching Assistant who runs a tutorial of approximately 15 students, rather than the professor.

Tutor Markers (TMs) are the primary point of contact for distance education courses. They do significant amount of interaction with students over email or Canvas and typically do the vast majority of the marking for distance courses.

Who can TA/TM?

The jobs are openly posted, 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 and the remaining 20% go to undergraduate students and other applicants.

How many hours do TA/TMs work?

The pay for TA/TMs is a salary system with a maximum number of hours of work per “base unit” (BU). One base unit of work corresponds to 42 hours 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 TA/TMs should track their hours as any work over the salaried amount must be compensated by the department.

Why TA 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 3 hours / week to 20 hours per week and are paid on salaried basis with some significant benefits.

Master’s student TAs & TMs are paid a salary that works out to at least $27 per hour, which is much higher than other work available off-campus or on-campus, which typically ranges from $11-20/hour. In addition to the salary, international students will get about $300 per semester in savings, as MSP premiums (government medical plan) are paid by the Employer when you TA/TM. TAs & TMs also have the right to defer tuition and pay a little bit off each paycheque, rather than paying it all upfront at the beginning of the semester.

My department has very few jobs, can I still TA/TM?

In the strike of 2012, TSSU members won the right for graduate students to have priority in other departments besides their own. Within your own department you have the highest priority, and in other departments you have the 2nd highest priority. Graduate students in many departments may be qualified to teach in several other departments. As examples, a Engineering graduate student may be qualified to TA/TM in Physics, Chemistry, Math and Engineering. A Sociology graduate student may be qualified to TA/TM in English, History, Labour Studies and Sociology.

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

No, as a TA or 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 course-based program like M.Eng, M.Sc. Finance, M.B.A, etc, can I still TA/TM?

Yes. Graduate students have priority regardless of the type of program 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 TA/TM?

While there might be good reasons to listen to your department, some departments may try to convince you that you shouldn’t TA in order to save money. If you’re a graduate student and don’t apply, the department can hire cheaper non-graduate students TA/TMs. So if your department tells you to not TA, be aware that they may have a conflict of interest and might not be the best source of advice.

Where do I find TA/TM jobs?

As a result of the 2012 strike, all TA jobs must now be posted on the central online job posting system, but departments will post them at seemingly random times. In the 2015 strike our members fought and won a single posting date for all TA/TM jobs. Once that contract goes into effect, all TA/TM jobs will be posted on the same date, 8 weeks before the next semester, and will remain open for 2 weeks.


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