Department GTA Support: Chemistry

Posted in: Case Studies

This case study from Chemistry, is part of a series providing short summaries of some of the different good practice models and approaches taken to department level support for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs).

The Department of Chemistry moved GTA training ‘in-house’ to enable new PG students to demonstrate early in semester 1. The training also allows for peer instruction from seasoned demonstrators, as well as additional support for continuing demonstrators. The course has been developed and delivered by a DoS, Dr Fiona Dickinson, with support from all staff who teach in the laboratories.

One Day Course:

The sessions cover

  • Sorting contracts and getting paid
  • Health, safety and chemical hazards in the undergrad laboratory
    • Chemical first aid
  • The role of a laboratory demonstrator
  • Explanation on the purpose of lab teaching
  • What to do if you are worried about a student
  • Educational theory (cognitive load, active learning, Socratic approaches, threshold concepts)
  • Assessment & feedback (theory and good practice, formative/summative, mark schemes, students unhappy with marks)
  • Writing in past passive
  • Reflective practice & peer reflections
  • Preparing to demonstrate in your lab class (peer based)
  • Peer instruction in the lab (with academic staff)
  • About demonstrator references
  • Looking forward to the end of semester wrap up

A 2 page summary document is shared compiling some of the key points of the day, including staff responsible for all labs, and contact details of student support, DoS and their line manager.

Continued Support

The course is delivered on a single day, but there is continuing peer instruction, and references are made available for each demonstrator to provide feedback on practice.

  • Peer Instruction: Each lab class has at least one experience demonstrator (who has received good or excellent feedback on prior sessions) as well as experienced academic demonstrators. The peer instruction which occurs on demonstrator training day is encouraged throughout the course.
  • A wrap up session is designed to involved GTA demonstrators in development of teaching, either through refining already existing experiments, or by new suggestions.
  • References for GTAs are gathered from academic & technical staff, and from the undergraduates.
  • Two teaching awards each semester for GTAs

Further Advanced Support and Development:

Pursuits are made available from academics staff for anyone who requests it (principally to support students considering AFHEA application, or those wishing for academic careers).

Dr Fiona Dickinson acts as a mentor for experienced demonstrators wishing to apply for recognition, or wishing to gain more experience in education. A monthly journal club, as well as ‘pop in and chat’ sessions run throughout the year. The group are encouraged to act as a peer group to share ideas and practice.

If you would like more information, contact the Directors of Studies/Teaching in the department. Support for setting up or reviewing your own department’s support for GTAs, along with further information on the University level support and development and can be obtained from the Centre for Learning and Teaching (contact

Posted in: Case Studies