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Ways to Motivate Teaching Assistants

They want Responsibility and Contact with Both Students and Peers

By Rachel L. Kajfez and Holly M. Matusovich

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) play critical roles in higher education. While they are teachers, they also are students. Therefore, institutions have an obligation to design positions and programs that support their professional development. Past studies have analyzed GTA developmental programs from the perspective of content and pedagogy training, but little research has examined the experience of GTAs in these programs. To develop teaching environments and training programs that support GTA development, we must better understand the factors that motivate GTAs.

According to self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation depends on supporting three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The purpose of our study was to examine graduate students’ motivation to teach in first-year engineering programs with regard to these three needs. We interviewed 12 GTAs from five universities in one phase of a mixed-methods study. Through a combination of a priori and open coding, we identified five factors that affect GTA competence, autonomy, and relatedness. They can be summed up as training, previous experience, appointment structure, students, and teaching colleagues.

All GTAs in our study received training that supported their competence. The most common forms included weekly and university-wide training sessions. These sessions provided a venue for GTAs to learn about program and university policies, course content, and general pedagogical practices. Based on our findings and previous literature, we recommend that all GTA positions include some form of content and pedagogy training.

Across all sites, GTAs reported that prior experiences contributed to their competence. The most common influential experiences were as a teacher or student. Accordingly, we suggest that GTA programs acknowledge and build on GTAs’ previous experiences, tailoring training when feasible. For example, if GTAs will be teaching a lab course and have taught a similar class at a different institution, have them reflect on their previous work, identifying qualities of their teaching they would like to preserve and opportunities for enhancement the new position affords them.

GTAs noted that appointment structures affected their autonomy, including the jobs they were assigned. Duties that supported autonomy included lecturing, grading, one-on-one discussions with students, developing curriculum, holding of?ce hours or review sessions, and overseeing undergraduate teaching assistants. When GTAs felt responsible for or had control over some decisions during each of these types of activities, their autonomy and teaching motivation improved. We recommend that institutions enable GTAs to engage in at least some of these activities.

GTAs reported that their relationships with students affected their teaching experiences. Helping and seeing their students succeed raised their view of—and enthusiasm for—teaching in general. We encourage all GTA positions to include such direct interaction with students as being the instructor of record or taking responsibility for office-hour sessions.

GTAs also discussed relationships with fellow GTAs and with faculty. In most instances, participants viewed their relationships with peers more positively than their relationships with faculty. They described the community they built with their peers and how they were able to learn directly from each other. We recommend that activities be integrated into GTA programs to foster positive working and learning relationships among GTAs.

In their relationships with faculty, our participants had both positive and negative experiences. Often faculty served as gatekeepers to experiences such as delivering a lecture to a class. We suggest faculty supervisors take an individualized approach to supporting competence and autonomy with each graduate student, carefully considering previous experience and appointment structure. We believe this individualized approach could improve relationships between GTAs and faculty.

When developing teaching environments and training programs for GTAs, we recommend that faculty and administrators consider the five factors that we identified and their effects on GTAs as teachers and students. Addressing these factors will strengthen GTAs’ motivation in teaching and, with time, improve the quality of teaching in engineering.


Rachel L. Kajfez is an assistant professor of engineering education at Ohio State University. Holly M. Matusovich is an associate professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech. This article is excerpted from “Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness as Motivators of Graduate Teaching Assistants” in the April 2017 Journal of Engineering Education.

Tax bill information: excerpted from Federal Science Partners

The Senate bill, while not as problematic to the higher education community as the House bill, nevertheless contains a number of provisions that would negatively impact students and institutions by reducing charitable giving, creating an unprecedented tax on private colleges and universities, increasing costs and the regulatory burden on many colleges and universities, reducing the ability to access tax-exempt bonds for capital projects, and threatening state investment in higher education. The Association of Public & Land Grant Universities (APLU) has highlighted many of these issues in their analysis available here.  The Association of American Universities (AAU) has also identified shortcomings of the House and Senate proposals. The American Council on Education (ACE) also released a letter commenting on the Senate bill representing the interests of 46 different higher education associations.
On November 15, about 40 different scientific societies and associations co-signed a letter expressing concerns about the tax reform legislation.  The letter, signed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Marine Laboratories, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and others said, “…While the goal of the House tax reform plan is to help grow the U.S. economy, the language to repeal the student loan interest deduction, graduate student tuition waivers, the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit and educational assistance programs ultimately will have the opposite effect. By making advanced education less affordable, it is likely to drive some students away from seeking higher education. Because a majority of graduate students are in the key areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), these provisions will have an outsized impact in the sciences…”

Congratulations – Century II Campaign Endowed Equipment Fund (C2E2) Awards Announced

Vice President for Research David Reed has awarded the following Century II Campaign Endowed Equipment Fund (C2E2) awards at the recommendation of the C2E2 Committee.

  • Mary Raber (Pavlis Honors College) – MakerSpace: Facilitating the Development of a Maker Culture at Michigan Tech
  • Jingfeng Jiang (Biomedical Engineering) – Building Mechanical Testing Infrastructure Toward Enhancement of Human Healthcare Research and Education on Campus

Reed thanks the review committee members for their participation in this internal award process. For additional information on the C2E2 opportunity, visit C2E2.  These awards support equipment that impact educational efforts.

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam

Dear Seniors,

As you look for employment, keep in mind that being on track to becoming a “Licensed Professional Engineer” will be a highly visible extra.  Licensing may be required for some jobs.  It is required in all states before you can enter private practice in engineering.

Graduating with an ABET-approved engineering degree and passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam are your first steps to becoming a Licensed Professional Engineer.  The FE Exam covers broad engineering fundamentals, and NOW is when you will be best prepared to pass it.


General information about the FE Exam, the testing location and time, and registration instructions can be found here:
The $175 registration price (reduced from $225) will be available through NCEES starting January 1, 2018, so wait until after that date to register. 
Dr. Tony Rogers

Deadline Approaching for Requesting IT Funded New Software

Michigan Tech IT provides funds for software above and beyond the funding available through your departmental budget. If you have a software need and want to apply for this funding, complete this form. The deadline is Wednesday (Nov. 15).

This application collects information about the source of funding, usage and the possible substitution or addition of software. All requests are then reviewed by the IT Software Group and the IT Governance Council. More information regarding the process can be found here.

Requests are prioritized and approved based on form responses and availability of funds. Not all requests may receive funding through this process.

There’s still time to submit your request. Here are two important dates to remember:

  • Nov. 15: The deadline for submitting a funding request for software

  • Jan. 15: The date you will receive a response to the software request based on budget availability, need and impact

If you have any questions on this process, or on any IT service, contact us at or call 7-1111.

NIH Update (Extramural Nexus): Clinical Trial Parent Announcements, Revised Grants Policy Statement, LRP, New Podcast

October 2017 / November 2017

Continuing Steps to Ensuring Credibility of NIH Research: Selecting Journals with Credible Practices

Posted on November 8, 2017 by Mike Lauer

The scientific community is paying increasing attention to the quality practices of journals and publishers. NIH recently released a Guide notice (NOT-OD-18-011) to encourage authors to publish in journals that do not undermine the credibility, impact, and accuracy of their research findings. This notice aims to raise awareness about practices like changing publication fees without notice, lacking transparency in publication procedures, misrepresenting editorial boards, and/or using suspicious peer review. Continue reading →

What Can We Learn from the Early Outcomes from the NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards?

Posted on October 27, 2017 by Mike Lauer

In earlier posts, like this one, we discussed the importance of moving towards “evidence-based funding.”. NIH seeks to apply data-driven strategies to conceptualize, develop, implement, and evaluate policies, such as those that will affect the NIH-supported biomedical research workforce. Today, we’d like to spotlight a recently published analysis of an award program directed to investigators early in their careers – a population that has received much attention at NIH and beyond in recent years. Continue reading →

A Sampling of Recent Literature on the Scientific Workforce

Posted on October 18, 2017 by Mike Lauer

As NIH continues its work to better understand the many factors that influence the stability of the biomedical workforce, we wanted to take a moment to discuss some recent papers that highlight the need to take new measures to support early and mid-career researchers. Continue reading →

Top Stories

NIH Plans for Issuing Clinical Trial Specific Parent Announcements

In February NIH announced plans to require clinical trial specific funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for due dates of January 25, 2018 and beyond. Expect to see clinical trial specific parent FOAs on the streets for select activity codes at least 60 days ahead of the first due date after January 25, 2018. Some NIH Institutes and Centers will join these parent FOAs; others will publish IC-specific Clinical Trial FOAs. Continue reading →

Revised NIH Grants Policy Statement

NIH issues a revised Grants Policy Statement each fall. The latest version, issued in October, introduces no new policies. Rather, it incorporates updates made throughout the year. This revision applies to all NIH grants and cooperative agreements with budget periods … Continue reading →

NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP) Reminder

Applying for an NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP) award? A reminder that applications along with supporting documentation are due on November 15. The NIH Loan Repayment Programs are a set of Congressionally-mandated programs that are designed to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or biobehavioral research careers. …. Continue reading →

Tell Us About Areas of Scientific Opportunity that Would Benefit from the Unique Research Resources of the NIH Clinical Center

The NIH Clinical Center, as the largest biomedical research hospital in the world, is a unique local, regional, and national research resource.  To ensure the Clinical Center is maximizing its potential to support the best possible science, the NIH Director … Continue reading →

New Resources

New Podcast: “Understanding the Definition of a Clinical Trial and What That Means for You”

A new “All About Grants” podcast is now available! In “Understanding the Definition of a Clinical Trial and What That Means for You” (mp3, transcript), Dr. Mike Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research, discusses the changes to clinical trial policies, addresses community questions, and speaks to how these changes will impact applicants and grantees. …. Continue reading →

Science of Science Communication III Webinar

There are less than two weeks until The Science of Science Communication III, and while every seat at the event is taken, you can still register for the live webcast. The entire event will be available to stream, and signing up will send you an email reminder. Don’t miss it!
Register Now »
The Science of Science Communication II: Summary of a Colloquium
The Science of Science Communication II: Summary of a Colloquium

Successful scientists must be effective communicators within their professions. Without those skills, they could not write papers and funding …

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Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda
Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda

Science and technology are embedded in virtually every aspect of modern life. As a result, people face an increasing need to integrate information …

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Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences
Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences

Science is a way of knowing about the world. At once a process, a product, and an institution, science enables people to both engage in the …

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Communicating to Advance the Public's Health: Workshop Summary
Communicating to Advance the Public’s Health: Workshop Summary

The Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Population Health Improvement brings together individuals and organizations that represent different …

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Using Narrative and Data to Communicate the Value of Science: Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
Using Narrative and Data to Communicate the Value of Science: Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief

How should we convey science—both its findings and its value to society—to the many members of the public who lack either scientific training …

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Effective Chemistry Communication in Informal Environments

Three Minute Thesis Competition at Tech

This is a request to inform the  graduate students of your department about our annual 3 Minute Thesis competition during your graduate seminars and encourage them to participate.
What is 3MT?
‘Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) celebrates the exciting research conducted by Ph.D. students around the world. Developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), the competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills. Presenting in a 3MT competition increases their capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props’.  For more info about the competition you may visit:
We request you to encourage your graduate students to participate in the 3MT competition.This is an opportunity for them to get their research work noticed at the regional, national and even international levels. There will be prizes for the top presentations and the winner will be sponsored by the Graduate School to participate in the 2018 MAGS (Midwestern Association of  Graduate Schools) competition. Please feel free to go through the GSG website for guidelines and other important information pertaining to the presentations.The students have also been informed about 3MT and have been emailed the registration form through their respective department GSG representatives.
Date: November 30th
Time: 2:00 – 6:00 p.m
Venue: MUB Ballroom B3

We offer the following resources to help them make an effective presentation:
1. A pre-event orientation session that offers tips and strategies on the 3MT presenting techniques (face to face session)
2. Videos of presentations made by past winners (sent via email)

3. Videos on potential pitfalls and mistakes to avoid (sent via email)

Dissertation Writing Groups

Tomorrow’s professor

Dissertation writing can be an isolating experience. The magnitude of the project can overwhelm. Dissertation writing groups comprised of fellow dissertators who provide feedback are a lifeline.

There are three kinds of writing groups:

Quiet writing with company. Meeting with others to write for a specified time period;also called Shut Up and Write  (here is  a virtual SUAW community or DIY Writing Support groups. These groups focus on helping each other through the process, and may include accountability check ins. (University of Michigan has a guide for Dissertation Support Groups []

Feedback groups. These groups share writing, and provide peer feedback. These are the groups I am focused on here. The dissertation feedback groups I participated in as a doctoral student were instrumental in my success. They certainly improved my work. My productivity increased. In this blog post, I reprise and update the advice I compiled shortly after I graduated.¹


NCEES announces price reduction for FE, FS exams in 2018

Dear Engineering and Surveying Educators:

Beginning January 1, 2018, NCEES is reducing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam registration fees by $50 to $175. The reduced fee will apply to registrations completed on or after this date; the new price will not be honored for registrations completed before January 1, 2018.

NCEES member boards voted to lower the price of these exams at the organization’s 95th annual meeting in August 2016.

The FE exam is the first of two exams required for professional engineering licensure; it is designed to test students’ knowledge of concepts learned while earning an accredited bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline. The FS exam is a similar exam designed for surveying licensure candidates. These exams are currently taken by nearly 47,000 examinees throughout the United States and 15 foreign locations annually. They are computer-based exams administered throughout the year at Pearson VUE test centers.

“NCEES and its member boards are committed to reducing barriers to licensure,” NCEES Chief Executive Officer Jerry Carter explained. “Moving to year-round computer-based testing for these exams, which gives candidates greater scheduling flexibility, was an important part of those measures. The organization is taking the additional step of lowering the price of the fundamentals exams to ensure that cost is not a prohibitive factor in starting on the path to licensure.”

For more information on the FE and FS exams, visit

Download the news release.