Academia has a weird way of warping your sense of time. To start it’s a constant barrage of crunch times big and small for everything from homework and exams to paper deadlines. Then there’s the fact that we as faculty and staff slowly grow old whereas our students remain in roughly the same age bracket, something I’ve written about before. Maintaining perspective in this bizzarre world where everything and nothing changes at the same time can be a challenge.
But there is a big plus to existing in a different time frame than your students, something I’ve only recently begun to appreciate. One of the jobs that I’ve taken on during the past five years is the Python course mentor. We offer 30+ sections of introductory Python classes each year, and it’s important to have someone to keep an eye on them making sure that nothing goes wildly off track. The Python classes are also a rarity at DePaul in that we have extra labs for them, and teaching assistants oversee the labs. One of the things I’ve drifted into doing is hiring and supervising the group of 2-3 Python TAs we require each year. Finding TAs at an institution where they aren’t the norm can be tough, and some years I have struggled to find the right candidates. It doesn’t help that I only teach undergrads, but I’m restricted to hiring graduate students as TAs.
But at DePaul we offer a combined degree program. In the combined degree program undergrads sign up for a graduate degree and then take three graduate classes as an undergrad. In a flash of insight I’ve taken to putting an idea into the head of any student who took my Python class(es) (and did well) and who applies for a combined degree program. I’ve been suggesting that they should apply for an assistantship once they become graduate students, selling the (many) benefits. Yes, this strategy isn’t likely to bear any fruit for 3-4 years, but that time frame is just a blip on a faculty member’s radar. So I’ve been enthusiastically doing it, and I have hopes that sometime in the near future I won’t struggle to find good TAs anymore.