GSA Minutes 2007-01-25

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GSA meeting minutes 25 January 2007

Attendance: 25

Called to order 5:10pm

Interaction with Carl Schlichting over teaching assistantship (TA) assignments

The process by which TA assignments are made:

  1. A list of preferences is solicited from each graduate student. Often the response is from only a subset of students, because some are sent in late.
  2. Faculty who are teaching courses for that semester also submit their TA preferences.
    1. Note: Instructors ask for grads whom they know (a) are capable and (b) want to TA a particular course. It is recommended that students talk to the instructor in advance if they want to TA a particular course.
  3. A list of courses that need TAs is compiled. The TA requirements for BIOL 102/107/108 are received from Karen Lombard.
  4. TA selection committee compiles a matrix of classes and TA preferences. The following criteria are considered:
    1. There is somebody covering every course.
    2. Position filling adheres as closely as possible to both TA and instructor preferences.
  5. The committee does not keep track of who has not gotten their preference in the past.
    1. Please inform the committee if you are usually not getting your first choice (e.g. if you want BIOL 108 and always get 102).
    2. Assignment among the 100s courses is often subject to perceived expertise of grads studying botany vs. zoology.
    3. BIOL 102 often has fewer openings than the number of students who prefer to TA it.

Q: Do we mention not getting our TA preference previously when we submit a new list of preferences?
A: Yes

Q: Who is on the TA assignment committee?
A: Eldridge Adams, Dave Wagner, Bernard Goffinet, Elizabeth Jockusch (Louise Lewis is covering while E.J. is on sabbatical), Carl Schlichting.

Q: Is there a rule that students get to TA a course taught by their advisor?
A: It’s not a rule exactly, but since assignments are subject to instructor preference, it often works out that way. Faculty preferences tend to carry more weight than student TA preferences (and that is not expected to change).

Q: When does the committee meet to assign TAs to classes?
A: They meet several times throughout the year. It is the same committee that does grad admissions. Their first meeting for new admissions will be soon.
For this (spring) semester, the basic outline was fleshed out in December. Many factors change even just before classes begin (e.g. grads get RA support), so many TA assignments get shuffled just before classes, because of scheduling, etc.
The committee can send out a tentative list, if the grads want it, but note that it will be subject to change.

Carl Schlichting: Who did not get their TA preference recently?
Nanci Ross got demi support.
Carl: Demi students automatically get assigned to BIOL 102, unless they vehemently insist otherwise.
Nanci would like a list of classes needing TAs to be made available ahead of time.
Carl: There is a list on PeopleSoft, the list of courses offered next semester.
Carl: This semester there was a particular difficulty covering W courses. This came up suddenly in January. The creation of EEB 245W happened at the last minute, and the department had to scramble for TA funding. There has been no plan to have grads teach W courses on their own; this was a sudden unexpected thing.

[Clarification from Carl Schlichting:] The creation of 245W opportunities for grad students to teach a W section happened very late (Early December). At that point we didn't have funding, but we sent out feelers to some students about possibly teaching Ws. The Dean's office agreed to fund these about a week later, I believe.
(Note that although this may not seem so "late", given that classes start mid-January, the 2 week down time around Christmas makes it hard to get administrators, students and Awards committee members to make decisions rapidly.)

Maxi Polihronakis: Teaching opportunities come up that we didn’t know about ahead of time.
Carl: There are two major grad positions that are not teaching positions: the student in charge of the computer room, and the grad who attends to the ABI sequencer (this is a half TA). This semester there is a position for a student to work full time in the herbarium because there is no staff person currently. Some research assistantship (RA) positions are faculty specific e.g. Kent Holsinger got an RA because of his department headship. Greg Anderson was allowed a similar situation.
Maxi: Students should know that these positions are available.
Carl: The position is not “open” to students, but to the choice of the faculty member.
Maxi: TA positions should be treated like jobs, i.e. be advertised and have applications.
Carl: We don’t advertise TA jobs. Technically we could assign positions without soliciting grad input.
Molly Letsch: It seems that not all positions are advertised. How is it decided what is open?
Maxi: e.g. ABI sequencer position, how many grads knew that was available?
Carl: A list is made of qualified grads, then a student with an open schedule is chosen.
Maxi: The ability to apply for the ABI position should be announced.
Nanci: Students should come out of the grad program with a wide range of course teaching experience. That’s the concern, not sure if it’s a reality. Also, positions should not be open only to people who know about them.

Lori Benoit: Would the committee keep a list of courses somebody has been TA for? e.g. Lori would like to teach something besides BIOL 102.
Carl: Let the committee know if you have been passed over repeatedly for your preference. Many students choose to teach the same course repeatedly because it requires less prep work.

Jessica Budke: Any final questions?

Molly: When is the cut-off date for making requests to faculty?
Carl: Preferences are asked of faculty at the same time that TAs are asked. But you can’t ask too soon. Carl thinks most faculty don’t think that far ahead.
Krissa Skogen presents as an example that she wanted to TA ecology, but the same TAs were always appointed. One issue is upper-level courses that allow grads to broaden their teaching experience.
Carl: This is an issue they are working on. Some classes have TAs with a “strangle-hold”, and the committee are working to broaden the exposure and encourage faculty to look outside their regulars. In the future, they probably will have a half TA in any course that gets enrollment of 40-45 students. But note that experience counts – having an experienced TA saves the professor time setting up, etc. Carl: If there are any other questions, let Jessica and him know. He wants to introduce more transparency into the process. Beware the half TA... two halves does not always equal a single full TA.

[Carl subsequently made available a document about the Graduate Admissions Committee]

Officers' Reports

Kat Shaw (Treasurer)

  • We have $381.31 in the bank, not including the purchase of pizza today.

Nic Tippery (Secretary)

  • The keyboard’s getting a little greasy.

Kathryn Theiss / Jason Hill (Graduate Student Senate [GSS] Senator)

  • There has been no meeting yet this semester. Jason Hill is the EEB rep this semester. We have lost a senate seat. How? Well, we never really had the extra one. The number of senate seats is determined by the proportion of total UConn grad enrollment:
    • Departments with the top 10% of grads per dept get three reps.
    • 65%+ get two.
    • Below 45% get one.
    • The range 45-65% is not really defined. EEB is not far below 65%.
  • Rachel Prunier is no longer the GSS secretary. A new one has not yet been voted on.

Jadranka Rota (Invertebrate Collections Liaison)

  • Invertebrate committee met yesterday, their first meeting of the fiscal year.
  • Update since August: They plan to bring in one taxonomic specialist each year and give them $3000 to work on a specific group. This year they have employed Eric Quinter to work on Lepidoptera. He has clarified 1500 specimens so far. He was a curator at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). There is a volunteer also, who puts on ID labels and curates specimens.
  • Future years’ work will focus on other specific groups.
    • Em Getz: Are these people on sabbatical?
    • Jadranka: E.Q. is retired.
  • There are other people working on smaller groups. The next level of progress will be to enter all specimen-level data into the database.
  • There have also been some acquisitions, notably Derek Sikes’ Rhode Island beetle collection, made over many years, and also linked to a publication. It contains around 5000 specimens.
  • Some odonate specimens have had their identifications checked and been incorporated into the collection.
  • The collections course has 15 people enrolled, up from expected because of undergrads.

Amy Weiss (Plant Collections Liaison)

  • They have started advertising for work study positions. If you know undergrads who want to earn work study money, let them and the collections staff know.
    • Jessica: Check with Jen Murphy.
    • Em: There is an undergrad email listserv.

Susan Letcher (greenhouse update)

  • The greenhouse has begun having weekend hours, open on Saturdays 10am-2pm (no Sunday hours). There will be a docent present, with Susan and an undergrad alternating. It is recommended to park in the north garage for greenhouse visitors.

Maxi Polihronakis (Seminar Committee)

  • The speaker, Arne Mooers, still plans to come. He is also still looking for a ride to Boston after his visit.
  • The seminar in question will be March 29th, the Thursday of the last week of March.

Molly Letsch (Grad Symposium Committee)

  • We are still free to pick any week in March. March 11th is good for prospective students. The two middle weekends in March are free (March 10th and 17th). March 10th is part of Spring Break. March 17th is the other good date – note that it’s St. Patrick’s Day. After the date is chosen, the committee will begin to meet.

Diego Sustaita / Juan Carlos Villarreal (Monday/Tuesday Evening Seminar)

  • Is there a preference for Monday or Tuesday?
    • Mon: 0
    • Tue: 2
  • The first seminar of this semester will be by Karolina Fucikova at Chris Simon’s house. She won’t be there, but we have her permission. It will be sometime in the first two weeks of February. The MES/TES leaders will be soliciting speakers for subsequent weeks.
    • Em: Coerce people, threaten them.
    • Diego: I’m not really good at that.
  • Suggestions for possible speakers:
    • Amanda Wendt can talk about her bat course.
    • Jessica suggests we invite BS/MS students.
  • What is the preferred time? Currently it starts at 7:30pm, with a half hour to mingle, and talks beginning at 8:00pm. It has been suggested to start at 7:00pm (30 min earlier), with the talk beginning at 7:30pm.
    • 7:00pm is better: 4
    • 7:30pm is better: 5
    • Vote is inconclusive.
    • Nic: Food has been provided at recent evening seminars. Will that continue?
    • Diego: Yes.
    • Kat: Make sure expenses for beer are kept separate from food.

Tsitsi McPherson (Center for Conservation and Biodiversity [CCB]/CCC/CBC?)

  • Nothing to report.

Tsitsi McPherson (Welcome Committee)

  • There are no students starting this semester, so no welcomes were extended.

Nanci Ross (Faculty Representative)

  • Heads-up: The Center for Environmental Science and Engineering (the project of Mike Willig) have grad fellowships available in amounts from $5000-7000. More details to follow. Proposals must be interdisciplinary. Nanci suggests to go to another department and find a faculty member to sign on with you. It’s not bad money. The money is for research, maybe travel also.
    • Em: How interdisciplinary does it have to be? e.g. EEB and History, or EEB and Plant Science?
    • Nanci: EEB and Plant Science is okay. She thinks within the biological sciences is what they had in mind.
  • If you are interested more, talk with Nanci or Willig.
  • Addendum: The Center for Environmental Science and Engineering will help you write your proposal.

Amanda Wendt (T-shirts)

  • Jessica has info for where to order.
  • Solicit undergrads for designs.
  • Tsitsi suggests an ordinational plane, with the axes of happiness vs. productivity, with all appropriate arrows.
  • Amanda suggests “Ecologists do it with models.”
  • all: What about systematists, etc?

Final Business

Q: How do we upload our photos to Paul Lewis for the website?
Jessica will send the instructions again.
If you look at Carrie Fyler’s photo close-up, it looks like she’s holding two beer bottles.

Final quick mention of issues (Jessica Budke)

  • Safety on North Eagleville.
  • Parking.
  • Copy machine in BioPharm.
  • Last semester, the TAs of BIOL 108 listed suggestions for improvements. Their suggestions were heard and some were even implemented. You can be heard!

Pablo Arroyo: Who is in charge of the computer room?
Jessica: Daniel Fan.

Minutes committed by Nicholas Tippery (GSA Secretary).