Not always pink fluffy clouds

As a blogger for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, I have been charged with providing the quotidian perspective of a student, with the freedom to describe my goings-on in whatever [coherent and respectful] fashion I choose. This includes but is not limited to classes, housing, social life, extracurricular activities, and so on.

Opinions are also welcome. But that can be dangerous territory. I am supposed to be a liaison of the College of Computing; a representative who could very well be the first (and hopefully not last!) point of contact to those on the outside wishing to look in.

I think everyone will agree with me when I say that life isn’t always fair; there are certainly times when fun seems a rather long and arduous mountain climb or choppy and swirling ocean away. Though I am sure you, gentle reader, realize that college life is no walk in the park, it may still catch you by surprise to read an explicit written confession on my part pertaining to the truth of that very sentiment.

Bear with me, then, as I do just that.

Toward the conclusion of this past spring semester, I applied for two teaching assistant positions for the summer. I had to interview for both positions; in retrospect, they both went pretty well, though the interviewer for one of the courses mentioned that there was a possibility that they wouldn’t be hiring anyone for the summer, as their ranks were pretty much filled already.

One issue (which I will not dwell on, as it is widespread in the professional world and unlikely to change anytime soon) is the fact that, for one course, I was never even notified one way or the other regarding the position for which I applied. For the other course, I only found out because I directly contacted two of my interviewers. No news seems to be the equivalent of bad news.

That issue aside, my primary issue is with the hiring rationale: I asked for a reason why I wasn’t hired for one of the courses, and the response was that they wanted someone who would be around in the fall (as I am graduating this August).

Purely on principle, this rationale doesn’t make much sense to me. I always thought the best person for the job would get the job (of course, this depends on what one’s definition of “best” is). This is an extreme case, but it boggles my mind to consider hiring a brand-new subpar TA who will stick around over an outstanding TA with experience whose tenure is all but ended.

(remember, this is all on principle – I’m not saying I’m outstanding)

At the very least, perhaps the subpar applicant could learn something from the outstanding old guard. Or, after the semester is over and the old guard has moved on, perhaps the new blood that arrives will yield fresh talent, and the subpar applicant can be avoided entirely.

Now, if the decision came down to two equally talented candidates, one of whom would be sticking around and the other of whom would be graduating, that depends entirely on hiring philosophy. Football coaching dictates that the senior gets the nod, as the junior will always have next year once the senior’s tenure has finished. Other people may wish to build for the long-term, going with the younger blood who will be around longer and, in theory, influence the direction of the program more thoroughly.

But how often are there two equal candidates whose only difference is remaining tenure?

I am entirely open to the possibility that I am overlooking something, or some bit of information is being withheld from the greater equation I am looking at (after all, I was not part of the hiring process in any way). But the rationale I’m seeing doesn’t sit well with me. Yes, I was hoping to notch my 4th semester as an undergraduate TA, and get back into teaching after a two-year hiatus, but I have already found other ways to spend my time this semester. Plus, I can in no way assert that I am an outstanding TA; my argument is entirely on principle.

It just doesn’t sit well with me.


About Shannon Quinn

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4 Responses to Not always pink fluffy clouds

  1. Richard says:

    Think of the goal of hiring TAs to be to maximize the quality of education presented to all students that will be taking the class. Also remember that new TAs will generally be paired with a senior TA. Finally think about what happens if all the senior TAs graduate at (or near) the same time.

    With these constraints it seems pretty clear that hiring a younger (but perhaps less awesome) TA makes sense — the first semester you teach the amount of good (or harm) that you can do is minimized by the fact that you probably won’t be the one running the recitation and if the vast majority of the senior TAs graduate it does a large disservice to the subsequent classes.

    I hope that makes it a bit clearer why sometimes we have to pass up good candidates for younger ones?

  2. magsol says:

    You know, as someone who was once under the tutelage of a senior TA, and then WAS the senior TA twice, I’m somewhat appalled at myself for missing that bit of the hiring rationale.

    I appreciate the feedback. It makes a lot of sense. Thank you good sir!

    By the way, I cross-posted your Arrogance-Competence graph on another blog of mine awhile back (giving you credit, of course); needless to say I’m an avid reader of your blog, and I quite enjoy it. 🙂

  3. Cathryn says:

    While I understand the argument, is there a logical cut off date to hiring back a tried and true TA?

  4. Richard says:

    Not really — there are tons of variables that might come into play and it varies by class (because some classes require a lot more ramp up than others to TA). It’s hardly a formal policy and I don’t even know how many head TAs consider it — it’s just something we talked about when we deciding who to hire back in the day when I was a TA.

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