By Kel Hahn
For many graduate students, the most integral aspects of their postbaccalaureate studies include coursework, relationships with faculty, publication opportunities, presenting at conferences, laboratory research and more. While financial considerations require many to serve as teaching assistants (TA), the role tends to function more as a job than an enriching, formative experience.
For Austin Gilbert, who graduated in December with his master’s degree in civil engineering, being a TA significantly shaped his three semesters as a graduate student.
“Being a TA allowed me to interact with different students on a day-to-day basis, and I really enjoyed that,” relates Austin. “It’s gratifying when the students feel good about what they’re doing or how they accomplished something.”
Knowing that interacting with faculty can be intimidating for students, Austin made relatability his calling card.
“I feel like you should always be able to talk to your professors if you need help, so I tried to take away the perception that I'm up here and you're down there. I made myself available and let them know they could always talk to me.”
Austin served as TA for four classes: subsurface remediation, introduction to AutoCAD and water resources engineering—all in the Department of Civil Engineering—as well as EGR 102 and 103 in the First-Year Engineering program. He recalls the introduction to AutoCAD class as his most rewarding TA experience.
“During the first class a lot of people had issues getting used to the software. Quite a few didn’t want to take the class in the first place. I said, ‘It’s early in the semester. We will work through it.’ They all ended up staying and enjoying it by the end of the semester.”
Austin has accepted a land development analyst position at Kimley-Horn in Washington D.C. When asked what it will be like to have his weekends free now that he’s no longer a student, Austin answered in a way that demonstrates he’s the kind of person any employer would want to hire.
“When the weekend rolls around, I'm expecting to go to work! I want to do everything I can to make sure I’m getting everything done and standing out for what I can do.”