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Ph.D TA Requirement:

All Biology Ph.D. students are required to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and/or Course Assistant (CA) for two Biology (BIO or BIOHOPK) courses.  One quarter must be in the undergraduate lab courses (BIO 45, 46 47, or BIOHOPK 47), introductory courses (BIO 60s level), or foundations courses (BIO 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86 or BIOHOPK 81, 84, 85).  The second course may be an advanced undergraduate BIO elective course or lab/introductory/foundations course. Biosciences mini-courses (BIOS) or summer teaching positions cannot be used to fulfill teaching requirements.

Students are expected to complete both TA requirements by autumn of their 3rd year in the PhD program. CMOB students who TA during the Autumn Quarter of their 2nd year can request to postpone their qualifying exam until the end of Winter Quarter. Petitions for postponement should be submitted before the start of the Autumn Quarter of the 2nd year.

The department requires teaching experience for two reasons. First, the department has practical needs for teaching assistance and must satisfy some of these needs with graduate teaching assistants. Second, the teaching experience is valuable for students who later choose to pursue academic careers where they will be expected to teach and develop courses as well as for students who pursue any career in which public speaking, leadership, presentation skills and program planning are used.

TA selection/appointment process:

  • An application that includes a list of courses offered with available TA positions for the academic year will be emailed to students annually, typically in July/August. Students who have not fulfilled the required two TAships are required to submit an application.
  • Students will complete the application, ranking the courses they would most like to teach in the coming year.
  • Student Services and the Graduate Studies Committee will make a top candidate TA list for each course based on: 1) priority to intro/foundation courses/labs; 2) area of expertise and 3) additional skills required.
  • Instructors will be able to select a TA from the candidate list if there are multiple candidates. If TAs are not chosen in a timely manner, then TAs will be assigned by the Graduate Studies Committee.
  • The student should confirm with their advisor plans to be a TA.

The department will compile a list of teaching expectations and responsibilities for each course (instructor course information) and provide this information annually to graduate students with the application. Typical teaching responsibilities include the following:

  • Assist in the preparation and grading of exams, problem sets, etc.
  • Hold regular office hours
  • Assist in preparation and distribution of course handouts
  • Attend lectures
  • Provide student course feedback to instructor
  • Initiate and plan discussion sections
  • For lab courses: set up experiments, check equipment and supervise clean-up

Within the first two weeks of starting each TA position, the student should complete the TA Pre-Course Meeting Form with their supervising instructors and submit it to the Student Services Office.  Then, in order to fulfill their teaching requirements, students should have their supervising instructors complete the Teaching Evaluation Form. and submit the form to the Student Services Office.

Students who plan to TA for one of the core labs (BIO 45, 46 or 47) are required to attend a one-day training in the preceding quarter, BIO 291. Registering for BIO 291 to obtain units is optional.

In order to support students in their teaching, students must complete BIO 296 TA Training in Biology concurrently with their first teaching assistantship.  This course provides students with basic training, support and professional development. 

Optional, Additional TA Opportunities:

The Department of Biology considers teaching to be a core component of a doctoral student’s academic training. Students who wish to do more teaching after they have fulfilled the program’s requirement may be considered for open TA positions once students who have not yet completed their requirements have been assigned.  In all cases, students completing optional, additional TA opportunities must have already advanced to candidacy and must receive consent of their advisor before being appointed given the expectation of reduced productivity in the lab during the quarter in which they will be a TA.  

Students completing optional, additional TA work will be appointed as Mentor Teaching Assistants. The department’s rate for Mentor Teaching Assistants will be $3,000 higher than the university minimum rate for a 50% appointment. Students can expect to be funded as follows:

  • Students normally paid via Research Assistantship (RA) from either a department or PI funding source:

    • Courses requiring a 25% appointment (10 hours/week) or lower - In the quarter the student is engaging in optional teaching, they will be paid by the Department of Biology at the department’s Mentor Teaching Assistant (TF) rate for the effort required by the course (typically 25%).  The student will then receive a RA appointment (funded by either the Department or PI depending on the student’s year in the PhD program) to total a 50% assistantship appointment for the quarter.

    • Courses requiring a 50% appointment (20 hours/week, BIO 40, 60 and 80 series courses) - In the quarter the student is engaging in optional teaching, they will be paid by the Department of Biology at the department’s 50% Mentor Teaching Assistant (TF) rate.  

  • Students normally paid via fellowship stipend 

    • Courses requiring a 25% appointment (10 hours/week) or lower - Students on fellowships (e.g. NSF, SGF, etc.) are eligible to TA courses requiring a 25% appointment (10 hours/week) or lower.  In the quarter the student is engaging in optional teaching, they will be paid by the Department of Biology at the department’s Mentor Teaching Assistant (TF) rate for the effort required by the course (typically 25%).  

    • Courses requiring a 50% appointment (20 hours/week, BIO 40, 60 and 80 series courses) - Students on fellowship are only allowed to take on a maximum additional 25% TA/TF appointment.  If a student wants to TA a course requiring 50% effort, they must defer the fellowship for a quarter. They will then be paid by the Department of Biology at the department’s 50% Mentor Teaching Assistant (TF) rate in the quarter they are engaging in optional teaching.

Note: Annual University funding rates (CA, RA, TA, TF, etc.) can be found at 

If you have any questions, please contact the Student Services Manager. 

Design and Co-Teach a Biology Course:

Occasionally students want to co-teach a course with an instructor or design a new course.  To pursue these opportunities, teaching requirements must already be completed and students must have written approval from their advisor to teach and/or design a class. Specifically, students interested in designing a course should see staff in the Student Services Office 3 to 6 months in advance of possibly offering the course.  The Department does not currently have funds budgeted to compensate students who wish to develop and teach their own course.  Though financial compensation is not available, course development is a beneficial aspect of doctoral training. 


Graduate students who wish to design and teach a course should work with a faculty sponsor in the department and follow departmental policies and guidelines.  Faculty sponsors are expected to guide graduate student instructors in pedagogy and they accept overall responsibility for the academic quality of the course, including instruction and evaluation.  Examples of Biology courses developed by graduate students include BIO 133 (Network analysis for community ecology and conservation research), BIO 121/221 (Ornithology), and BIO 114 (bioBUDS - Building Up Developing Scientists: Science In & Beyond the Lab).  

Other Teaching Opportunities:  

A comprehensive list of teaching opportunities available to Stanford graduate students (including Summer Session, Leland Scholars, etc.) can be found here.

Teaching Resources:

  • BIO 296 TA Training in Biology: BIO 296 is an interactive course to support first-time TAs for Biology courses taught by Dr. Jamie Imam. The course covers practical topics like setting expectations, student engagement techniques, assessments, student feedback, and continual reflection on the teaching experience throughout the quarter. Biology PhD students must complete BIO 296 concurrently with their first teaching assistantship. 

  • Biology TA Mentorship Program: This peer-led program matches senior TAs with new TAs to meet over coffee in small groups.  The senior TAs help new TAs develop the necessary skills to be successful teachers throughout their first quarter teaching.  Senior TAs can draw on their experience teaching biology to give course specific advice. 2020-2021 leaders are Caroline Daws and Taylar Hammond. Senior TA volunteers are currently needed!  If you are interested, please contact Caroline and Taylar!

  • Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL): Programs/services offered include quarterly TA orientations, professional development, Mentors in Teaching (MinT), coaching, feedback and evaluations.