Building Stronger Connections: New Mentorship Program and Training Initiatives for Statistics PhD Students

The TA Training Committee, Training Programs, and Upcoming Changes
Profs. Kelly Findley and Julie Deeke of Statistics lead the Statistics TA Training Committee

Kelly Findley created the Teaching Assistant (TA) Training Committee in Fall 2020. His purpose behind this was to “enrich the experience of PhD students in the Statistics Department and to give them resources and support to succeed,” said Findley. Committee members meet monthly to engage in discussions related to TA professional development, training, policies, evaluations, mentorship, and teaching requirements.

For the upcoming Fall 2023 semester, Kelly Findley and Julie Deeke will be co-leading two training programs for the department TAs.  A PhD Onboarding Day is planned for incoming PhD graduate students on Tuesday, August 15th and a Teaching Workshop on Friday, August 18th for TAs who will be leading lab and discussion sections for STAT 107, 207, and 400.

The PHD Onboarding Day is filled with various events, including a PhD Student Q&A Panel, a Technology Orientation designed to familiarize PhD students with the tools and technologies they will utilize, and interactive segments on grading and assisting students. On the other hand, the Teaching Workshop is specifically designed for TA discussion and lab instructors, with the goal of enhancing their classroom leadership skills, discussion facilitation, and the ability to cultivate course concepts during discussion or labs. Both orientations are aimed to equip PHD students and TAs with the necessary tools to excel in their teaching roles.

In addition to these new developments, there will also be a new mentorship program for first-year PhD students. This program aims to provide guidance and support for these students as they get accustomed to their new courseload by connecting them to more experienced TAs and PhD students in the department. There will be many social events facilitated by mentors to create opportunities in getting to know their mentees as well as creating opportunities for their mentees to build relationships with their peers. They hope to foster a space for first-years to feel like they are not alone and that they have their mentors as an additional resource for advice, either about jobs and internships, what to expect of their first-year coursework experiences, or practical tips to be a successful TA.

“We have been expanding towards PhD support through PhD mentorship and professional development in which we focus more on TA cohort unity. We want to help students feel connected as a cohort when they come in. To feel like they are part of a community and part of a larger group helping to further certain missions in our department,” stated Findley.

In their role as co-leaders of the department’s TA Training committee, Kelly Findley and Julie Deeke also undertake various responsibilities aimed at supporting TAs and providing them with ample resources. They also advocate for the needs and interests of TAs, working towards establishing clear expectations and communication channels between TAs and professors in the Statistics Department.

To continue, one notable change made by the TA Training Committee was the revision of a TA requirement stating that all PhD students in the Stats Department had to teach their own class at least once before they graduate. The new revision now requires PhD students to have to teach a discussion or lab section for at least 2 semesters before graduation instead. The reasoning behind this was to shift their focus from creating course materials and their administration duties to instead focus more on promoting communication skills.

“We want our TAs to gain more experience in assisting and clarifying concepts to students who may struggle to grasp certain ideas. By doing so, they not only enhance their fundamental content knowledge but also develop the ability to approach subjects from various perspectives. This also translates to industry jobs for our PhD students. Being able to communicate to clients about data and statistical concepts, including folks without a statistical background, is incredibly important,” stated Findley. While the requirement to teach a class is no longer in place, selective opportunities for solo teaching are available to TAs who have excellent evaluations and an interest in academia.

In conclusion, the Fall 2023 semester promises to be an enriching and supportive experience for incoming Statistics TAs and PhD students. Professor Deeke hopes that “one of the things the TA Training Committee accomplishes is creating a better environment and experience for our grad students both as TAs and as students during their time at the university. My goal is that at the end of the day, we’ve accomplished a system that makes life better for our grad students so that they get to enjoy their TA experience but also get to enjoy their overall experience in the Statistics Department.”



Gianna Pham

Gianna Pham is a staff writer for the Department of Statistics. If you have news to share, please contact the Statistics news group at