The Annual Fund in Action

Graduating Teaching Assistants

By William Ryan “Cav” Caviness (Neuroscience ’10)
This is an image of William Caviness

William “Cav” Caviness (Neuroscience ’10)
Photo by Jack Looney

Everyone has a voice, and with the help of our teaching assistants, the professors can hear our voices more clearly.

My name is William Ryan Caviness, but here they call me Cav.

When I first came to U.Va., I didn’t want to have a single TA, no class where the professor wanted you to send all questions to the TA, no class of 200 students, no class without a voice. I felt that perhaps I would only do well in small class settings. However, after a few years I’ve learned that there might be something to this system.

This isn’t high school. TAs aren’t here to hold your hand; they are here to give you the nudge to get down the slide. My second semester of second year, I had a TA who expected us to know the details not only from class but also from the book—and in advance of class, meaning we needed to relate what we had just learned to what we were about to learn (key word, “about”)! It was constantly a circle of questions, with her never giving an answer but only another series of questions to try to get the answer out of us. It was torture when we had no idea and desperately needed help.

But the pressure of this intense way of learning pushed me to read and reread the class materials, and it did, in the long run, make me able to learn in ways that I was not accustomed to. I have had some other great experiences with TAs here at the University.

Sometimes class can be overwhelming in terms of the knowledge you receive in one sitting. The discussion sections are perfect for amplifying the information and getting it to you in a way that helps you make connections and apply the ideas. TAs are instrumental in getting things answered. Chances are the TAs had the same queries when they were in your shoes and had to find the answers themselves, so who better to ask?

EDITOR’S NOTE: While wages for graduate teaching assistants are paid from state funds (tax appropriations as well as tuition), many graduate students also receive additional support in the form of incremental stipends, some of which is made possible by gifts to the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund. Arts & Sciences allocates more than one million Annual Fund dollars every year to graduate stipend support. These allocations help to keep graduate student compensation more competitive, which assists our graduate programs in attracting and retaining top-tier students from around the globe.