Behind The Scenes— Q&A With Two COM TAs

The College of Communication offers several intro classes for students to build a strong foundation for their advanced classes. For most introductory courses, students will have a TA as a resource when they need help. TAs help professors have a better control of classes, and ensure efficient communication with students. 

I sat down with two COM TAs to learn more about what it’s like to work as one. Trisha Balan, a graduate student majoring in media science, is a TA for CM 180, Understanding Media. Nishtha Jadav, a graduate student majoring in advertising, is a TA for CO 101, The World of Communication: The Human Storyteller. They both love the experience of being a TA for their respective classes. 

Trisha Balan is a TA for CM 180: Understanding Media.
Nishtha Jadav is a TA for CO 101: The World of Communication – The Human Storyteller.

Hanqi Wang: Let’s dive into your journey of being a TA. Where did you learn about the opportunity, and what drove you to apply?

Trisha Balan: My assistantship was offered to me when I got into Boston University. I wasn’t sure in the beginning, because I thought it would be hard to adjust between studying and living abroad since I’m from the Philippines. Also, I was studying biology in my undergraduate school, so I had never learned anything about communication. But, since I’m a big science person, and I love talking about science and reporting, I decided to pursue my degree in media science. I eventually took the opportunity because I thought it would be great for me to learn some fundamental media theories and practice them, as well as offer help to students. 

Nishtha Jadav: I heard of this opportunity through one of the COM newsletters while I was in my hometown. I was unsure about it since I have never been a TA, but the opportunity sounded interesting so I applied. And I’m glad everything worked out. 

I believe being a TA has brought so much to your life. So, what’s the biggest challenge that you have confronted while doing your work?

Balan: Definitely digesting the content because I didn’t come from a communication background. Also, there is a little bit of a prediction aspect where you need to foresee the problem before it ever comes up. For instance, when Professor Amazeen is holding review sessions, what does she need beforehand? And for our own office hours, we ask students what they need help with before they come in, so we will be prepared and ready to present. The ability to have the foresight to predict, and always ready to solve problems are some challenges for me. 

Jadav: One of the biggest challenges is how to deal with students’ concerns. There are times where students are dealing with their personal life, or maybe they can’t submit quizzes due to technology issues. Then they are concerned about how it will affect their grades. When I first received such emails, I just wanted to make sure that I’m giving the right advice regarding their personal life or coursework. Being a TA requires me to know how to deal with these situations, and I always want to offer the best response so that it helps them in the best way possible. 

Besides attending weekly classes, what else are you required to do as a TA?

Balan: Each TA has their own office hours, and we also need to answer emails and questions in between. I love interacting with students because I was a teacher for a while. It’s really interesting to see what students have learned from class, and also what they are struggling with. We also need to grade assignments and meet with faculties to ensure the best quality of teaching. 

Jadav: We meet with faculties and other TAs to talk about a weekly plan on what we are going to discuss in our next discussion, and review our previous classes. For example, how can we make students engage more in class and what can be improved on? We also hold discussion sessions every Friday to talk about this week’s assignment and what we are expecting for next week. TAs are also required to grade three assignments and one project. Additionally, we have our office hours to help students solve problems regardless of the class, or whatever they want to talk about.

So much goes into being a TA. Have you learned anything from your students as well?

Balan: The best thing I learned from my students is don’t be afraid to ask questions. No questions are dumb. And because students who take the class are mostly freshmen and sophomores, they have the knowledge that they don’t know anything. So they ask the most complex questions that you wouldn’t personally think of. This is one thing that differs from older students, where they might be too shy to ask questions because they would think that ‘I should have known everything by now.’ However, for younger students, I’ve noticed that they ask good questions that challenge the topic or the theory. I love students who are able to ask good questions, and I think their questions inspire me as well. 

Jadav: I admire how fearless these students are. In the beginning of the semester, some students in my session were shy to participate and hesitant to share their opinions. But, we’ve come a long way, and I’m glad to see how these students have opened up more in discussion. They are now able to ask questions or just share their thoughts about topics more regularly. These students are always confident and they inspire me that I should be as curious as them in my classes as well. 

Are you able to relate your TA experiences to your own classes?

Balan: I was a TA for CM 180 last semester as well and I took a graduate level media theory course last semester. The materials are similar so I am working while learning. When I’m in my other classes, I can apply what I have learned from CM 180. So it’s just time well spent, and it’s very productive. And CM 180 helped me to build stronger basics for my graduate courses and career. 

Jadav: Not so much because we are doing basic concepts in CO 101; they are not the same as what I’m doing in my graduate courses. But, the analytical skill is shared. Students were analyzing a Google ad from 2017 for our last assignment in CO 101. They needed to find the communication objective, target audience, and understood the ad entirely. The ability to understand an ad is essential for an advertising major. 

Thank you for sharing your experiences. Lastly, would you recommend this opportunity to your friends? 

Balan: So I wasn’t particularly looking for an assistantship, but being a TA is one of the best decisions I have ever made. If you are someone like me, who has not been involved in communication before, it’s a really good learning experience and a great way to build foundations. If you can teach a topic, you must know it inside and out. So having this job required me to know the basic theories thoroughly.  

Jadav: I absolutely will. I enjoyed being a TA and I will continue to be. In fact, one of my friends saw me being a TA last semester and she was interested. So, she applied and now we are the TAs for CO 101. She’s fascinated about the experience and we both enjoy the process.

Hanqi Wang, Staff Writer

Hanqi Wang is a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in economics. She is originally from Shanghai, China. This is her first semester working with The COMmunicator. She was a mentor at Transition To BU and she had interned at Edelman China in the past summer. She’s passionate about working in PR agencies and communicating with different industries. In her free time, she likes to explore restaurants in the Boston area and travel with her friends.

Lily Roeller, Senior Editor

Lily Roeller is a second semester graduate student earning her Master of Science in public relations here at BU. Prior to BU, Lily graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2020 with a bachelor’s in communication and sociology. She currently is an account supervisor at PRLab, managing two client teams. In her free time, Lily loves hiking with her dog and watching bad movies.

Qinjing Liao, Staff Photographer and Videographer

Qinjing Liao is from Chengdu, China, and a second-semester graduate student studying Marketing Communication Research at the College of Communication. She has a BS in Gemstones and Material Technology from the China University of Geosciences. She is currently a videographer for The COMmunicator, and she is also a diamond grader. Qinjing enjoys traveling, cooking, and collecting minerals in her free time. 

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