Details on Work Assignments

Details on Work Assignments

Teaching Assistant

TAs are allocated at the departmental level. Depending on the course, department or faculty, TAs can be asked to take on a variety of responsibilities including: grading assignments, facilitating a lab or tutorial, hosting office hours, attending lectures, and proctoring or marking exams. 

TAs are not responsible for creating assignments or exams, preparing lectures, proctoring final exams alone, or submitting final grades. 

One of the most important discussions you can have at the beginning of a TA assignment is coming to an agreement with the course instructor on:

  • Course objectives 
  • Your responsibilities and instructor expectations
  • A breakdown of your hours: the Time Allocation Form is a great resource to facilitate this conversation, and keep both TA and course instructor accountable.

For a comprehensive resource on teaching assistantships, see the Centre for Teaching Excellence’s TA Handbook (also in PDF).

TAs are also considered a front-line observer of UWaterloo’s educational programming, and an ambassador for the program or department, faculty, and institution. As such, TAs are expected to model ethical behaviour, preserve academic integrity, protect student privacy, and maintain a safe and healthy environment. Learn more about academic integrity for TAs here.

It’s important  to understand the expectations of the role before your assignment begins. This could include planning for what weeks of the term are busiest (for example, around exams). That said, the instructor’s first goal should be to ensure your workload maintains a termly average of 10 hours worked per week. TAs are not obligated to work over their contracted hours for the term. 

UW has a memorandum on dispute resolution between TAs and instructors. If discussing with the instructor does not address your concerns, we encourage you to contact your department’s Graduate Officer. If the problem remains unresolved, the Department Chair should be consulted. Work assignment conflicts are often resolved informally, but a formal dispute can be undertaken. For more information, see UW Policy 30.

Students should know that UW Policy 33 on Ethical Behavior applies fully across the university, including to TAs, RAs, sessionals, instructors, and supervisors. Students have recourse if they ever feel harassed or discriminated against, or if an instructor or supervisor has created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Workplace harassment and sexual harassment and assault (See UW Policy 42) are not tolerated. Students are entitled to a safe working environment (See UW Policy 34).

Research Assistant

RAs are hired to assist a professor in the completion of their own academic goals and objectives, such as data entry, reference checking, or other administrative tasks. RAs are also allocated at the departmental level – while some may be advertised, it is important to network and express interest to your colleagues about the type of work you hope to get involved in. Many of these positions may be internally managed and allocated.

RAs are different from graduate research studentships, as outlined here.

Sessional Instructor

Currently, no information exists regarding assignment protocol, expected hours or responsibilities regarding sessional instructors positions at UWaterloo. This is a significant gap in training, management and education that concerns the GSA.

According to a 2011 report, “Where Does the Budget Go”, by the Syllabus Institute:

“On average instructors spend more than 24 hours creating a new course syllabus. The average instructor also spends 6.5 hours updating their syllabus for a new semester and nearly 3.5 hours maintaining their syllabus throughout a semester.” 

However, these estimates are not specific to new instructors such as Graduate Student workers who may be teaching a course for the first time, or creating a new course altogether. Students with no course design experience need to allocate extra hours for this work including the drafting of assignments and the creation of the syllabus. Estimates range between 50-100 hours for course preparation, and an additional 20-30 hours per week of course implementation. Note that any hours of course preparation before the work assignment remain unpaid.

If you are new to the course instructor role, consider participating in the Centre for Teaching Excellence’s “From TA to Course Instructor” workshop.

If you are interested in the course instructor opportunity, be sure to raise this interest with your research supervisor and any colleagues in your department at the start of your degree. These opportunities emerge from the department level but may not always be advertised.

 The GSA is actively advocating for more clarity and regulation regarding these crucial roles. At this time, sessional instructors receive minimal support regarding syllabus review, teaching performance or course delivery. 


Contact the GSA’s Labour Coordinator to discuss your experience and help inform our advocacy at

Students should not be harassed or intimidated into working above their contracted termly hours. Contact the GSA’s Wellness Coordinator at to discuss any of the above topics.

Last Updated: December 13, 2021

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