Working as a GSI: Frequently Asked Questions
Appointment and Administrative Questions
Working with Students
Supporting Student Well Being (Your Students’ and Your Own)
Working with Faculty and Other GSIs
Getting Feedback and Improving Your Teaching
There are several campus-wide eligibility requirements. For example, to be eligible for a GSI position students must be enrolled in 12 units, must be in good academic standing, and must demonstrate English language proficiency if they do not speak English as a native language. Please consult the Graduate Division’s handbook on Graduate Student Academic Appointments for fuller details. Also contact the person in your department who hires GSIs and ask about the availability of GSI positions and the necessary qualifications. Appointment decisions are made by the individual departments.
All prospective GSIs who do not speak English as a native language and do not have a bachelor’s degree from a US institution are required to demonstrate English language proficiency before they can be appointed as GSIs. Information on how to fulfill this requirement can be found on the Language Proficiency Program (LPP) web page.
If you already know you need to take a test, please fill out the Language Proficiency Questionnaire if you have not already done so. Once that is submitted, you will hear back from LPP within a day or so. Good luck!
Graduate Council policy requires you to do the following, either prior to or concurrently with your first GSI appointment:
- Attend the day-long Teaching Conference sponsored by the GSI Teaching & Resource Center. This conference is held each semester on the Friday before classes begin. Pre-registration is required. All first-time international GSIs must also complete the Teaching Conference for International GSIs, which takes place in the fall semester the Thursday before classes begin.
- Successfully complete the online course on GSI Professional Standards and Ethics in Teaching before you interact with students (in person or online) in your role as an instructor.
- Enroll in and complete your department’s 300-level course on teaching for first-time GSIs. All GSIs teaching for the first time on campus must take a 300-level pedagogy course, regardless of prior teaching experience or previous courses taken at other universities.
The three requirements above—as well as others pertaining to departments, faculty who teach with GSIs, and continuing GSIs—can be found in the Graduate Council’s Policy on Appointments and Mentoring of GSIs.
Additionally, all first-time GSIs must attend an hour-long Academic Student Employee orientation session. You can find upcoming session dates at this website and are not required to pre-register.
Every time you are appointed as a GSI, the department or unit that hires you will provide an official Letter of Appointment. Please read the letter carefully, as it states who your supervisor is, what dates you need to be on campus, and the specific dates of your appointment. If you have questions that cannot be answered in your department, university-wide information and policies on your appointment can be found in the Graduate Division’s handbook on Graduate Student Academic Appointments and the labor agreement that covers your position as a GSI. In addition to the Letter of Appointment and supplemental information the department must provide, the faculty member you are working with is expected to meet with you prior to the beginning of the semester to discuss expectations and your responsibilities in the course.
Several departments hire GSIs from other departments. The first thing you should do is review the Human Resources guide to Expected Academic Student Employee (ASE) Job Opportunities, where you will find a list of departments, contact people, and the number of GSI positions each department projects it will have for the coming semester. Email the contact person in the departments in which you feel you might be qualified to teach. The departmental contact person will let you know whether they are currently hiring GSIs from outside the department and can provide information about the application process.
You can find current GSI pay rates on the Human Resources website. Please note that the monthly and annual salaries listed there are full time; GSIs normally work either 50% time (20 hours per week) or 25% time (10 hours per week). The number of hours you are expected to work will be included in the Letter of Appointment. Normally GSIs are paid from August 1 through December 31 for the fall semester, January 1 through May 31 for the spring semester.
You can find up-to-date information on fee remissions on the Graduate Division website. If you have questions about fee remissions, the office that can answer your questions is the Graduate Division Appointments office (510-642-7101 or email@example.com).
Your hiring department will be able to provide information about access to the items you might need to carry out your position, such as office and desk space, computer, storage space, office supplies, mailbox, telephone, laboratory and instructional equipment, and course textbooks.
Students with disabilities have a legal right to receive appropriate academic accommodations, so you should take the request seriously. However, in order to receive accommodations, students must have an official letter generated by the campus’s Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) that describes the specific accommodation needed. If a student approaches you about an accommodation, you should first speak with the faculty member in charge of the course. The faculty member will have received notification from DSP if a student in the class needs an accommodation. If no notification has been provided, the student should contact DSP. In no circumstance should you provide an accommodation without an official accommodation letter from DSP. The Berkeley Campus Plan for Providing Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities addresses the responsibilities of the student, DSP, instructors, departments, and the administration, as well as the administrative procedures available to them. DSP serves to verify the disability-related need for academic accommodations. DSP also serves as an information and advisory resource for instructors and can be contacted at 510-643-0518 (voice), 510-642-6376 (TTY). See also the DSP web page Teaching Students with Disabilities. This topic is also covered in depth in the Online Course on Professional Standards and Ethics in Teaching that all first-time GSIs must complete by the end of the second week of classes. For policy matters and dispute resolution, contact Disability Resolution.
The campus policy appears in the Guidelines Concerning Scheduling Conflicts with Academic Requirements. Within the first two weeks of the semester, student athletes generally provide the faculty member with a game schedule for the season, noting any possible conflicts with the course schedule. Most faculty members try, based on the Guidelines, to accommodate student athletes in their requests to represent the university at away games for their respective sports, provided that the student communicates with the faculty member in a timely way. The Athletic Study Center (ASC), which advises student athletes, asks them also to remind faculty the week prior to any discussed conflict. The adjustments allowed include permitting students to attend another section of the same course; allowing them to hand in coursework or take an exam in advance, during, or after the period of travel; having the ASC coordinator proctor the exam while the student is on the road; and so on. GSIs should always speak with the faculty member in charge to find out how such requests should be handled. If you or the faculty member in charge of the course should have questions regarding any such requests by student athletes enrolled in your courses, please contact the Director of the Athletic Study Center, Derek Van Rheenen, Ph.D. (510-642-0605 or firstname.lastname@example.org). Some of your questions may be addressed on the Athletic Study Center website.
While you can provide useful questions and an empathetic ear, some student difficulties may go beyond your role and expertise as a GSI. Learn what some of the campus resources are for students who are stressed or distressed. The campus now provides a new resource for instructors to assist students who are in distress, the Mental Health Handbook. The Mental Health Handbook is a reference guide for GSIs, faculty, and staff to discern what they can do to help a distressed student. The key parts of the handbook are these:
- Indicators of distress: what to look for (academic, physical, psychological, and safety risk indicators)
- Resources for students (and instructors) on campus and in the community
- Tips for the manner in which you refer a student to one of the resources
- Flow chart to determine whom to contact when a student becomes distressed or disruptive or whose behavior becomes a cause of concern
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different services that the campus provides. For more information please see the GSI Center’s Campus Safety and Health resource list.
The campus has recently established a Students of Concern Committee (SOC) that addresses these types of situations. The committee is a consortium of campus resource units such as Counseling and Psychological Services, the Center for Student Conduct, the UC Police Department, the Dean of Students, and others who provide a centralized structure for campus departments, faculty, instructors, and others who need help dealing with a student whose behavior becomes disruptive or who shows signs of distress. If you become concerned about a student’s behavior, the SOC provides an online form on which you can communicate your concerns. You should also discuss the situation with the faculty member in charge of the course.
Campus officials strongly suggest responding immediately to conduct that could be perceived as sexual harassment. An immediate response may prevent the situation from escalating and may help lead to a prompt resolution. This initial response may be to address the situation with the person who is the source of the alleged unwelcome behavior or to report such behavior to the appropriate supervisor. If you do not feel comfortable going to your supervisor, you are strongly urged to contact the Title IX Officer (email@example.com or 510-643-7985) to obtain advice about reporting sexual harassment.
If, as a GSI, you become aware of possible sexual harassment involving students, a peer, or faculty, you are expected to report any problematic behavior to your supervisor — either the faculty member in charge of your course or the chair of the department in which you are teaching. If you do not feel comfortable going to your supervisor, you are strongly urged to contact the Title IX Officer. You may also inform the person who has been the target of such behavior of the campus resources available.
If the conduct is violent or you believe the conduct to be criminal in nature, please contact the UC Police Department as soon as possible (510-642-6760). Information on dealing with sexual harassment and violence, whether as victim, witness, or perpetrator, can be found at the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Prevention, Response, and Support website.
Campus information about grading can be found in the UC Berkeley Academic Guide. How you determine grades should be guided by the faculty member you are teaching with. He or she will give you guidance on grading individual assignments and exams. Grades at the end of the semester are submitted by faculty through CalCentral. Final grades are generally due 48 hours after the final exam.
This is a complex question—one that has no easy answers, but highlights a vital role you will play as a GSI. Often GSIs are the first “official” university personnel to become aware of student difficulties. At a minimum, you should establish personal contact with such students after the first paper or exam, perhaps by a note on their papers or exams, inviting them to come see you in office hours for assistance. You should also discuss the matter with the faculty member teaching the course. Additionally, it is important to familiarize yourself with the services of the Student Learning Center (510-642-7332) and the Letters & Science Office of Undergraduate Advising (510-642-1483). These units, along with undergraduate advising units in all of the individual colleges, can provide counseling and assistance for students before they encounter even more serious academic difficulties. For information on other campus units that can assist students, see the GSI Center’s Annotated Campus Resource list. The campus requires faculty to submit a midterm status grade for any undergraduate in their class who, at midterm time (end of 8th week in the semester), is earning a D, F, or NP. These grades are only for the purpose of informing students that they are earning a deficient grade, but they are not recorded on the student’s permanent record. Speak with the faculty member in charge of the course about submitting midterm status grades should a student in your section be getting a D, F, or NP.
If you believe a student has committed academic misconduct (e.g., cheating on an exam, copying someone else’s paper, plagiarizing, etc.), you should discuss it immediately with the faculty member in charge of the course to decide how to proceed. You should also read the information for Faculty and Staff at the website of the Center for Student Conduct (or contact them with questions, 510-643-9069 or firstname.lastname@example.org). The topic of academic misconduct and responding to students who commit infractions is covered in depth in Module 5 of the Online Course on Professional Standards and Ethics in Teaching that all first-time GSIs must complete by the end of the second week of classes. Additionally, at the request of students, the campus has recently introduced the Berkeley Honor Code. We encourage you to review the code and its expectations at the beginning of the semester with your students.
The campus has licensed Turnitin and makes it available through bCourses, the campus learning management system. Explanatory material is posted at Educational Technology Services’ Academic Integrity website.
The faculty member in charge of the course may have a specific way he or she wants to handle grading challenges, or may leave that up to the GSIs. It is good to have a policy about contesting grades and requests for regrades formulated at the outset of the semester and mention it in your section syllabus (some examples appear in Before You Grade: Grading Policies). Many GSIs, for example, ask students to put the rationale for their challenge in writing, or to wait 48 hours before they meet to discuss the challenge. Using a grading rubric can also help reduce challenges. Explaining to students as they prepare the assignment or exam what the grading criteria will be, based on a clear rubric, provides transparency so students are more likely to understand their grade. In addition, using a rubric that is shared among the course’s GSIs promotes consistency from section to section, so there will be less perception of any one GSI as a “harsh grader.”
If a student does challenge a grade, ask the student to outline his or her rationale for the challenge, in writing, in advance, and offer to meet with the student in office hours to go over the assignment or exam. In the event that you have made a mistake, you can correct it and adjust the grade. But hold the line if your assessment of the student’s work was accurate.
Difficulties among co-workers can arise in any situation. Problems are best handled by discussions among the parties involved. If difficulties continue with fellow GSIs, you should speak to the course instructor. If this doesn’t clear things up, see your department’s Faculty Adviser for GSI Affairs or your department chair. Difficulties with the course instructor, if they persist and cannot be resolved directly with the instructor, should also be brought first to the attention of the Faculty Adviser for GSI Affairs, then to the department chair. The GSI Teaching & Resource Center can also suggest campus resources that might assist to you in resolving course-related problems.
Many first-time GSIs are unsure about their teaching performance. In fact, all new teachers inevitably hit some rough spots early in their development. Despite the urge to keep one’s questions private for fear of being judged, it can be extremely helpful to discuss problem areas with other GSIs, with faculty, and with a GSI Center Teaching Consultant. Once you view teaching as an ongoing learning process, you realize that any problems you are encountering have been experienced by nearly everyone in your department at one time or another. Developing an open attitude toward your teaching and toward feedback about your teaching makes it easier to identify and develop your strengths and work on those areas that may need improvement. Useful information on how to improve your teaching can be found in Evaluating and Improving Your Teaching in the Teaching Guide for GSIs. Two ways to gather feedback are (1) through the use of mid-semester evaluations and (2) by scheduling a classroom observation or videotaped recording of one of your sections and a follow-up consultation, a service offered free of charge by the GSI Teaching & Resource Center. To speak with a Teaching Consultant at the Center or to arrange to be videotaped, contact us at email@example.com or 510-642-4456.
All GSIs are entitled to receive a copy of their teaching evaluations from the hiring department. Departments are required to keep GSI teaching evaluations on file for five years. Some departments transcribe the evaluation results; others may scan them and provide electronic copies to the GSIs. We strongly recommend that you get a copy of your evaluations after you have turned in the grades for your students. Potential employers may request a set of evaluations in the academic job search. To use evaluations to improve your teaching, make an additional copy that you can mark up. Using two different-color highlighters, mark what your students have indicated you do well and what your students suggest could use improvement. Make a list for each. Appreciate what you do well. Among those things the students have noted could be improved, select one or two of the most important ones and write out steps you can take to improve in those areas the next time you teach. Keep these goals and steps visible when you teach the next time so that you can purposefully move forward and make progress in these areas.