Film Studies Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant Information
On a regular basis, Film Studies graduate students making appropriate progress toward their degree are hired to serve as teaching or research assistants. Graduate assistants serve an essential function both in the undergraduate Film Studies curriculum and in the research programs of Film Studies faculty members; in addition, the opportunity to serve as a teaching or research assistant contributes mightily to graduate student learning and professionalization. Film Studies graduate students who serve in other departments or programs are covered by the rules and practices of the other unit (e.g., French & Italian, Rhetoric, Spanish & Portuguese); graduate students from other units who are hired by Film Studies are covered by Film Studies regulations and expectations. All assistants teaching Film Studies courses will be assigned a course supervisor.
Application for an Assistantship
General financial aid commitments are normally made in a student's initial letter of acceptance, but students who have not received a financial aid commitment are also eligible to apply for assistantships. Each spring the available positions for the coming year (summer, fall, and spring semesters) are announced through the Film Studies listserve and other methods. Only when new opportunities open up during the course of the year are further announcements made. In addition to filing a formal application in the department office, students are encouraged to meet briefly with the Head of Film Studies to signify teaching/research preferences and qualifications.
Appointments are normally made in April of each year for the entire following academic year (summer, fall, and spring semesters). Film Studies graduate students are given preference for teaching assistantships in Film Studies. Appointment decisions depend primarily on curricular needs, student qualifications, previous performance, and existing contractual obligations. Every effort is made to place students in positions corresponding to their requests and educational goals; however, not all requests can be granted. As a general rule, the Film Studies faculty endeavor to provide Film Studies teaching experience for all PhD students and as many MA students as possible; in order to increase the number of students who can be supported, however, it is necessary also to take advantage of possible appointments in other departments or programs.
At the time of appointment, assistants are informed of a) approximate salary (since exact salaries are determined by negotiation between the University and COGS, the graduate student union, they are not generally announced until summer), b) number of hours of teaching or research assistant work expected each week, c) specific course and/or research appointment/s, and d) identity of course supervisors. During the course of the semester, any substantial variation from the stipulated level of effort should be reported to the Head of Film Studies.
Teaching Assistant Obligations
By University regulation, all teaching assistants must demonstrate competence in the English language. For teaching assistants whose native language is not English, competence is determined by an examination administered before the beginning of the semester by the University’s English as a Second Language faculty.
Assistants assigned to a multiple-section course with separate lecture and discussion sections are expected to contact their supervisor during the week preceding the opening of classes, and to meet regularly with the course supervisor and other instructors. While multiple-section course assistants should use their imagination and vary classroom strategies, they must follow the syllabus and practices stipulated by the course supervisor. In addition to regular meetings with the course supervisor and other instructors, teaching assistants in multiple-section courses are expected to attend lectures, to share in film projection and other course responsibilities, to meet their sections, to hold regular office hours, and to participate in other pertinent pedagogical activities, such as review sessions, examination preparation and grading, and other activities prescribed by the course supervisor or decided on by the course instructors as a group. Within the stated coursewide grading structure, and subject to the review of the course supervisor, individual instructors assign grades to the students in their sections.
Assistants teaching standalone courses carry an especially heavy burden. On the one hand, they must respect a large number of expectations that they are not free to change. Each course fits into the overall undergraduate curriculum in a particular way, and thus has its own published and expected level, content, and approach. An appropriate amount of viewing, reading, and writing must be assigned for each course. On the other hand, teaching assistants are encouraged to bring their own experience and imagination to each course they teach. In order to assure a high degree of success in meeting varied educational goals, teaching asssistants are expected to contact their supervisor/s as soon as possible to work out an approved syllabus for each course they are teaching (e.g., in April for fall courses, by October for spring courses). After an initial discussion (covering course goals, traditions, and restrictions, as well as available materials and appropriate pedagogical strategies), the assistant submits to the supervisor a draft syllabus, which after further discussion is revised according to the supervisor's suggestions. The final syllabus must be submitted to the course supervisor at least one week prior to the start of classes. Requests for film rentals or purschases should be made as early as possible. Teaching assistants are responsible to follow and communicate College and University regulations, to provide a syllabus and other materials in a timely manner, to meet the course regularly, to provide office hours, to deal with student needs as they arise, to grade and comment on papers and exams conscientiously and punctually, to assign grades, and to run standardized course evaluations.
Throughout the semester, teaching assistants communicate regularly with their course supervisor regarding all aspects of the course. Supervisors are also expected to visit and observe classes at least once each semester. Teaching assistants should help to arrange a visit on a day when the instructor is leading discussion or lecturing (as there’s little benefit to having a course supervisor observe students working in groups or taking an exam). If deemed necessary or requested (by either the supervisor or instructor) a second visit may take place. Course supervisors will provide constructive criticism or suggestions following the observation. Both faculty supervisors and teaching assistants should view this process as interactive, cooperative, and supportive: the goal of course supervision is to allow experienced teachers to mentor less experienced instructors.
Problem situations of any sort should be reported to and discussed with the course supervisor and, when appropriate, the Head of Film Studies (e.g., unexpected unavailability of materials or equipment; student misconduct, plagiarism, or harassment; assistant hospitalization). Teaching assistants must submit course grades in coordination with faculty course supervisors, who are required to approve final electronic submission of grades. In order to give supervisors adequate time to clarify questions about final grades, teaching assistants must submit final grades at least two days before announced deadlines. Course supervisors should be alerted immediately if any problems with the submission of final grades should arise.
Resources Available to Teaching Assistants
Each teaching assistant will be assigned office space and given a budget for departmental course-oriented copying. Materials may also be placed on reserve in the Main Library. A list of departmental 16mm films (held in Media Services in the Main Library) is available in the main office and in the Institute for Cinema and Culture; this collection is expanded regularly with titles chosen for their value in teaching film studies. The extensive 16mm film and video (tape, laserdisc, VCD and DVD) collections held by the library are listed in the general Library on-line catalog and are available from Media Services. Teaching assistants must observe Media Services reserve and loan procedures. Additional video material, especially of international and experimental cinema, is available for brief loan from the Institute for Cinema and Culture, and is listed in the Institute office. Use of any materials requiring rental or purchase must be approved by the Head of Film Studies in advance; since we maintain a large in-house film and video collection, assistants should not expect approval of 16mm film rentals beyond the materials held in the CIC collection, a restricted-access archive of prints held in Media Services and selected for pedagogical use. This collection is shared by a consortium of institutions and we pay a rental fee to use these prints, which should be reserved for class screenings as far in advance as possible. A website providing a full list of the CIC collection can be found at: www.lib.uiowa.edu/cicfilm. Assistants are expected to pick up, project, and return their own films. Film damage or equipment problems should be reported immediately.
Research Assistants are assigned to help faculty members conduct their scholarly research, thereby engaging and training them in research skills useful to a future Film Studies career. Whenever possible, faculty draw upon specific skills (such as foreign language or cultural expertise) in assigning tasks. Ideally, Research Assistant work offers a learning experience as well as financial support for graduate students.
Research Assistants should monitor and report their working hours to their faculty supervisor. In general, RAs are expected to provide a fixed number of hours of service each week, but faculty supervisors and RAs may, by mutual consent, negotiate different configurations.
Research Assistantships are clearly distinguished from Teaching Assistantships. RAs may contribute to a faculty member’s preparation to teach a course (by gathering research materials, ascertaining film and video availability, etc.), but should not be asked to provide services directly related to the teaching of a faculty member’s course, such as “substitute” teaching, grading of papers or exams, or class screenings.
The benefits of Research Assistantships are accompanied by responsibilities as well. Like faculty members reviewing a manuscript for possible publication, RAs enjoy privileged access to unpublished research which provides a substantial source of information and learning, but which must not be quoted or otherwise used without the faculty member’s permission.
A brief report on RA performance is commonly included in the annual evaluation of a graduate student’s progress in the program.
Short-term Assistantship Appointments
From time to time, Film Studies graduate students may be appointed to short-term assistantships. Whenever such short-term appointments are made, the scheduling, number of hours, duties, remuneration, and supervisor are specified in a letter of appointment.