1. I actually hate working alone, and
2. There isn't any positive feedback. When you pass your comprehensive exams, or publish a paper (the "big" achievements), you're really just doing what you're supposed to do. You might get a pat on the back or a celebratory lunch with the lab, but really you're just relieved that you're not a bad student who didn't do those things.
Teaching, however, is the complete opposite.
You are constantly surrounded with people. You coordinate with the other TAs. You discuss lessons. You see your (in my case, 79) students every single week and interact with them. You watch their progress. You alter your style in real-time in response to the students. You help them if they're failing. You watch them succeed at your direction. And most of them do succeed. How cool is that!?!
For whatever reason, TA assistantships are far less respected in grad school than RAs or other fellowship positions. It's what you do when you "can't get funding" from other sources, or need to fulfill a teaching requirement. People complain about it. In my program, I have a 1 semester requirement, but I opted to do a full year to get the extra experience. Why isn't TAing valued more in graduate school, especially when so many PhDs go on to positions that include teaching? What an incredible experience.
I loved every moment of this semester with my ISB208L classes. (Okay, I maybe could have done without some of the late-night grading and pulling my hair out over plagiarism... but I loved all the other moments.)
On my last day of classes, students gave presentations about group projects they'd worked on all semester (or, uh, worked really hard on for a few days beforehand). My first section ran a little over, and the final moments of class were a little awkward and rushed, but nothing out of the ordinary.
"Bye!! Have a nice life!!"
My second section ended early. I expected the same reaction from the class as the first, so I just said my "adios" spiel and went to pack up my things for the day, trying not to think about the fact that I had likely just fallen back into complete-stranger status for all of these great people. This section was by far my favorite, and had plenty of students I knew I would actually miss. I looked up after a moment and saw about a quarter of my class sort of dawdling on their way out, looking over at me expectantly as if to say, "is that it?"
As they all gathered around to say goodbye and thank me, one of my students had to tell me not to cry. But she didn't help anything-- I was just reminded of the email she had sent me the night before, when our conversation about writing the paper due in the course turned into a conversation about my budding interest in science writing:
Then as I'm standing there staring all my favorites in the face, I hear shouts from the doorway, "Good luck with your prairies!" "Yeah, have fun in your prairies!"
On the first day of class, I had told them about how I study prairie restoration but that people in Michigan don't always know what prairies are. That was all I ever mentioned it. Then on the last day of the semester, multiple kids are giving me, "good luck with your prairies!"??
I resisted the urge to call for a group hug (although I believe a very sappy "don't go" came out of my mouth) and got myself together enough to leave class in one piece. But as grades went out over the next few days, I started getting emails in reply...
They're so ridiculously sweet.
She's a junior.
Yep, check out the timestamp on this one. Literally came in as I was writing this post.
I'm pretty sure I can't put this stuff on my resume, so in grad-school-land none of it matters.
But it matters a lot to me.
I never would have thought that in the end, my students would be the ones encouraging me.
Merry Christmas <3