I owe my understanding of chemistry to dedicated teaching assistants (TAs), who patiently worked with me when I was confused. Sometimes they seemed more accessible than faculty, and that may be a common perception among undergraduates. A 2012 study by Kendall and Schussler found that undergraduates taking biology courses perceived TAs as being “approachable, understanding, and relatable,” while they perceived professors as “distant, strict, and formal” (p. 196).
The teaching assistant’s connection with students is an avenue librarians can use to support retention in STEM disciplines. In the 2007 article, “The Impact of Teaching Assistants on Student Retention in the Sciences,” O’Neal et al. reported that undergraduates didn’t identify TAs as having an impact on whether they planned to stay in a science major or not. However, TAs can influence at least two factors the students did identify – lab climate and career information.
Librarians can help prepare TAs to offer a supportive lab climate and career information through 1) training about the library’s resources and services, 2) providing library instruction in TAs’ sections, and 3) creating online guides about lab assignments and career options for TAs to share with students. Many of us have opportunities to train and collaborate with TAs already, but if you don’t, it’s a good option to explore.
Photo attributed to: George Joch, courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.The photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.