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PETALS: Partnership for Enhancing Teaching and Leadership in Science

Program Details

Below are the program levels within PETALS along with descriptions of what ATAs at each level do. You'll also find the desired qualifications for each program level.


Assistant Teaching Assistant (ATA)

What do ATAs do?

  • Attend weekly instructional team meetings
  • Develop skills needed for teaching in an active learning classroom

  • Learn course material and activities

  • Learn basic course policies

  • Learn teaching techniques and pedagogy relevant to the class
  • Co-host 1–2 office hours per week with another ATA or a grad ATA and/or assist students on SLACK\
  • Co-host exam review sessions
  • Evaluate ATA experience at the end of the semester

  • Submit an end-of-semester reflection

  • Facilitate in-class discussions and answer student questions when relevant

  • Proctor exams when relevant

  • Assist with the preparation of course materials

Who can serve as an ATA?

  • ​Any student who has previously completed the course they are applying to be an ATA for with an A- or higher

  • Demonstrate high reliability (as evidenced by references)

  • Demonstrate a strong understanding and grasp of biological material 

    • Must have an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher

    • Must have a major GPA of 3.5 or higher

  • Demonstrate strong social skills (as evidenced by references and interviews)


Senior Assistant Teaching Assistant (Sr. ATA)

What do Sr. ATAs do?

  • Sr. ATAs carry out all of the same roles as ATAs plus those listed below
  • Additional teaching responsibilities

    • Train and mentor ATAs

    • Hold one to two office hours per week alone or with an ATA and monitor Slack

    • Host exam reviews

  • Management:

    • Serve as a project manager for special projects

      • Break down projects into manageable pieces

      • Delegate project tasks

      • Supervise other ATAs to ensure completion of project goals

  • Integrating New TAs:

    • Serve as a peer mentor for new ATA

    • Help foster a sense of community among the instructional team

Who can serve as a Sr. ATA?

  • Many of our ATAs will be promoted to the status of Senior ATA during their tenure in the program.  Especially considering the selective nature of our ATAs, Senior ATAs are superstars! This promotion evidences not only exceptional work but also a dedication to the position that has resulted in the knowledge needed to be an excellent mentor of new ATAs.  These are the additional qualities required to be promoted to Senior ATA: 

  • At least one year of experience in PETALS 

  • High reliability (as evidenced during tenure on the staff, and stepping in for other ATAs whenever possible)

  • Highly equitable (record of always doing their share)

  • High conscientiousness (record of careful, thorough work)

  • Highly compassionate (shows compassion for students, but not a push-over)

  • High accountability (admits to own mistakes and cleans up own messes)

  • Setting an excellent example for other ATAs (reliability, workload, attitude, policy adherence, professionalism)

  • Knowledgeable (mastered many facets of the work, now trusted with training and mentorship of new ATAs)


Lead Assistant Teaching Assistant (Lead ATA)

What does the Lead ATA do?

  • Lead ATA does not have to hold office hours but may if they want

  • Additional teaching responsibilities

    • Hold one exam review session before each exam.

    • Lead material reviews for Sr. ATAs and ATAs as necessary

    • Support ATAs and Sr. ATAs when they need tips for explaining content to students

    • Organize monthly chats with Sr. ATAs and ATAs to allow students to ask career-based questions.

    • Communicate directly with the instructor regarding any issues that Sr. ATAs or ATAs have noticed in the class.

  • Management

    • Supervise Sr. ATAs and ATAs (ensure policy adherence and that everyone is pulling their load)

    • Assist in the ATA selection process: interviewing and selection decisions

    • Random work checks only if needed but discuss with the instructor first. This is only done if there is reason to suspect that someone is not doing their part, and a gentle reminder of priorities to all ATAs does not correct the issue. Always assume the best and do not act confrontationally. The goal is to motivate, not offend.  

    • Identify Sr. ATAs' and ATAs’ strengths/weaknesses.  Assist instructor in giving them a chance to contribute with strengths, grow with weaknesses

    • Bi-weekly meeting with the instructor

  • Integrating New ATAs

    • Send welcome e-mail to new ATAs

    • Assist in organizing and hosting ATA orientation 

    • Training of new ATAs

    • Checking in with ATAs over their 1st semester

    • Help foster a sense of community among the instructional team

    • Take on special projects of interest if relevant​

Who can serve as the Lead ATA?

  • We do not always have a Lead ATA. The Lead ATA is not determined by seniority but rather is selected as the best qualified. These are the additional qualities sought in Lead ATA.

  •  High conscientiousness (eye of an eagle: rarely misses anything)

  • Highly compassionate (shows compassion for others, but not a push-over)

  • Equitable (always attempting to do more than his/her share

  • High reliability (record of going above and beyond to help and support other Sr. ATAs and ATAs)

  • Problem solver (creative problem solver, helps to prevent problems)

  • Highly observant (identifies unique strengths of Sr. ATAs and ATAs and uses/helps develop them)

  • Sacrificing (willing to sacrifice extra time/effort in the rare case of an emergency)

  • Highly accountable (admits to mistakes, cleans up own messes and learns from them, shares credit for successes)

  • Highly knowledgeable (mastered virtually all facets of the work, a record of exceptional training/ment

  • The potential to be an excellent democratic leader

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