The Graduate Students Association at UCLA is expanding its presence as a resource center for employment opportunities with new initiatives this year.
The agenda includes revamping student outreach and launching an interdepartmental employment program called the TA Marketplace, said GSA President Michael Skiles. That idea first emerged in spring, amid complaints of teaching assistant shortages across the University of California system.
The TA Marketplace is an online application that allows faculty to recruit TAs from any department on campus – not just their own, said Skiles. The site launched last month in anticipation of fall quarter.
Campuses are preparing for a large increase in undergraduate enrollment this year, and Skiles learned through meetings with the UC Board of Regents that the regents were brainstorming ways to ensure those students would have enough TAs. During meetings, the regents considered admitting more graduate students, he said.
But the GSA is advocating for a different path. By surveying graduate students, the association discovered that a large percentage of students felt their department lacked enough open TA positions. The data showed that they would be interested in becoming TAs elsewhere on campus, Skiles said.
“There’s no reason why an engineering student can’t teach a physics course,” he added.
Skiles, who was elected president in April, began attending meetings for the regents and the University of California Student Association, or UCSA, over the summer. He urged them to spread the TA Marketplace initiative to other campuses, since it would help alleviate the shortage and boost financial resources for students in school, he said.
“There aren’t enough resources for the graduate students we have, and bringing in more would exacerbate that problem,” Skiles said.
At future meetings with administration, Skiles will present data from the survey the GSA distributed in June with the help of Lindy Comstock, a graduate student in applied linguistics. Comstock and her team devised the survey to gauge interest in the TA Marketplace and gather students’ thoughts on the TA shortage.
The survey’s 539 responses reflected a large percentage of student interest in the TA Marketplace, especially within the Humanities, Education and Public Health divisions.
The GSA survey also asked students to address the possibility that undergraduates might be asked to fill needed TA positions.
Many responses indicated concern that undergraduates were unprepared for the job in terms of academic knowledge and teaching expertise, Comstock said. Some felt that undergraduate TAs would face pressures from personal relationships or Greek life that could affect the way they handled grades or social situations. Others said graduate students would receive less opportunities to teach.
The survey also asked for general comments on the TA shortage.
“The real issue here is that the university needs to hire more full-time faculty, not adjuncts, to teach,” one student wrote. “If there are not enough TAs to address the size of the incoming freshman class … that should not be the responsibility of students.”
Comstock said the board has been interested in boosting graduate student enrollment for many years.
“We want to be sure that UCLA has the resources to support them in terms of housing and funding,” she said. “We don’t want (enrollment) to be considered simply a means to fulfill an administrative problem.”
Skiles said he has met with the UCSA and the chair of the UC Academic Senate, who have been receptive and supportive of the initiative.
Aside from the TA Marketplace, Skiles said the association aims to publicize more resources and job opportunities for students this year by focusing more on public outreach and social media. Of about 12,500 graduate students at UCLA, less than 10 percent are subscribed to the GSA email list, he said.
Alex Fung, GSA’s director of communications, began revamping the association’s online presence upon entering office in July. He said he wants to use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to publicize events and employment opportunities that were not relayed to students before.
“I know a lot of graduate students are married, engaged or have kids; (they are) not too involved with campus life or extracurriculars,“ the first-year graduate student in public policy said. “I really want to make GSA a center where we can answer questions or point them in the right direction to more campus resources.”
Skiles said he hopes expanded social media outreach and the TA Marketplace will be significant resources for students seeking connections and employment.
“We’re encouraging students in need of TA opportunities to look at this marketplace as a way of finding jobs,” he said. “I’m hoping it will help hundreds of graduate students have (more) funding this year.”