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What is a Teaching Fellow?

Patrick Wensink
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A teaching fellow is generally a graduate student at a college or university that teaches undergraduate classes. This educational role requires many of the same responsibilities as a regular professor including course preparation, lecturing, and grading. The purpose is to prepare potential professors for the challenges of leading classes. This job has much more responsibility than a teaching assistant, often including supervision sessions with an experienced professor, and offers a unique financial structure. The role of a teaching fellow in the United Kingdom has a slightly different setup than in other nations.

Teaching fellows are also known as graduate student instructors (GSIs) by many educational institutions. No matter what the title, this responsibility is taken on by a graduate student attempting to achieve a Master's or Doctorate degree and is teaching undergraduate classes in a specialized field of study. GSIs are expected to be experts on the subject matter being taught and be able to properly prepare students for that field of study. A teaching fellow must design course material, present lectures, and handle grading.

The purpose of a university providing a teaching fellow program is normally to prepare the instructor for a career in academia. By handling a class and learning how best to present information and work with undergraduate students, fellows learn by experience. Many graduate programs require Master's and Doctorate candidates to lead a specified number of classes every year. Some programs, on the other hand, make teaching a voluntary activity.

A teaching assistant is sometimes mistaken for a teaching fellow. A teaching assistant is often a role that many fellows hold first; teaching assistants help professors grade papers, answer student questions, and lead discussion groups, but are not in charge of any individual class. A fellow handles teaching on his or her own, but is frequently also supervised by a full-time professor who provides feedback on the fellow's performance. In most situations, a fellow receives a contract on a semester-by-semester basis and receives a financial stipend for this work.

In the United Kingdom, a teaching fellow is a title given to a full member of an academic staff. This person is usually a newcomer to the staff with a lesser amount of experience. This is a gateway role into becoming a professor or lecturer. In other academic situations, referencing a professor as a teaching fellow is simply an additional title or honor bestowed upon that person.

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Patrick Wensink
By Patrick Wensink , Former Writer
Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various genres and platforms. His work has been featured in major publications, including attention from The New Yorker. With a background in communication management, Wensink brings a unique perspective to his writing, crafting compelling narratives that resonate with audiences.

Discussion Comments

By pastanaga — On Aug 04, 2013

My father once told me he learned more from being a teaching fellow than from the degree itself. Something about having to put information into terms that someone else can understand tends to make us learn it even better.

He ended up getting a good teaching job at a local community college and was perfectly happy with it. That's not what everyone will want, but you never know what might happen in your life.

By indigomoth — On Aug 04, 2013

@Fa5t3r - With difficulty, particularly in an MFA program, where they will be running you off your feet with work anyway.

In fact, most of the time, the only reason they've asked for the references and things that they always ask for when you apply for a post-graduate program, is to make sure that you are suitable for teaching undergraduates.

If you've got good marks from other degrees, they don't really need comments on your ability and MFA candidates generally are chosen through the strength of their portfolio. But they do need to make sure that you aren't completely crazy, so they get the references in order to figure that out.

By Fa5t3r — On Aug 04, 2013

I've been looking into doing an MFA in Creative Writing and most of the best programs will offer you a teaching fellowship so that you don't have to worry about money while you're studying.

I'm a bit torn about it, because it must take up a lot of time, but, of course, it means that there are no real financial worries which is a huge bonus.

I mean, I don't really have a choice about it, because I can't afford to do this kind of degree without getting some kind of financial assistance, but I do wonder how people manage to balance the workload.

Patrick Wensink

Patrick Wensink

Former Writer

Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various...
Learn more
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