A Day in the Life of a Bio153 UTA

Ashley Braunstein

By Ashley Braunstein 

I learned about becoming an undergraduate teaching assistant while I was a student taking the Biology 153 Lab course. At the end of the semester, we were informed about how our class UTAs earned their positions. My UTAs helped and inspired me so much that I decided I should pay it forward by becoming a UTA myself. My role as a UTA is to assist the individuals taking the class by providing them with directions and techniques. I also grade quizzes and distribute or restock equipment. Engaging with the students has been incredibly rewarding, and I’m very proud to see them progress in their skills, knowing I played a part.

A typical day for me would include entering the lab about an hour early to prepare the materials for the first part of their lesson. Then I take note of their agar plates and distribute them. Once class begins, during the first 5-10 minutes, all of the UTAs meet with our supervisor to quickly go over what to expect from the lab ahead and cover any possible questions that may arise. Then I return to the lab to grade quizzes for about 20 minutes. After that, I make my rounds with the students to see if they have any questions or require assistance. These rounds usually last for about 30 minutes, at which point the students usually have a good grasp of the directions. At this point, I hand out the graded quizzes. The rest of my time in the lab is usually spent answering students' questions or restocking equipment. Overall I would say I spend about 7 and a half hours engaging with lab materials and being in the lab each week.

Being a UTA has taught me a lot about leadership and enhanced my ability to engage with others. Finding a healthy balance between instruction and leisure is extremely important when running the experiment each week. I can attest to my own improvement in reaching this balance. Throughout the project, I have been given the opportunity to work under so many amazing mentors, like Professor Jess Rocheleau, who runs the whole lab, and my graduate teaching assistant Kirsten Underwood. Having the ability to interact with such amazing mentors has definitely been one of the highlights of being a UTA with the SEA-PHAGES project and this lab. If you are considering becoming a UTA I would highly recommend it. There may be a bit of a learning curve at first, but it’s worth it for the amazing opportunity.

One thing I would recommend to anyone wanting to be a UTA, is to become comfortable with asking for help. You are never alone in the lab, and you will have a fantastic team of people to assist you when you need it. The opportunity to engage with the future great minds of science has been so incredible! I will definitely be able to translate these skills into my future career prospects and I will hopefully be granted the opportunity to be an UTA again.