Information About Graduate Student Instructors at the University of Michigan
The Role of <abbr>GSIs</abbr>
The Role of GSSAs
Facts and Figures
Employment Contract
Current Labor Negotiations

Information About Graduate Student Instructors and Staff Assistants at the University of Michigan

The Role of Graduate Student Instructors at the University of Michigan

Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) at the University of Michigan are considered members of the community of scholars. GSIs contribute to our teaching enterprise by working as partners with the faculty members who develop and supervise course offerings. GSIs are involved in instruction in a variety of ways, such as teaching sections of introductory first- and second-year undergraduate courses; guiding small discussion or lab sections of large lecture courses; and assisting with preparation of materials, grading and study sessions.

Supporting Graduate Education

GSIs Make Excellent Teachers

GSIs Are Offered Extensive Training


Supporting Graduate Education

First and foremost, GSIs are graduate students pursuing an education. The opportunity to work closely with both undergraduate students and faculty members in a teaching environment is a key ingredient in their educational experience.

Graduate education should provide students with the full range of experiences they need to become capable and effective professionals. Whether or not our graduate students are ultimately going into academic careers, the experience of teaching provides valuable skills that can translate into every field of endeavor. Teaching requires the ability to synthesize large volumes of information in a coherent and articulate manner, and to do that in a classroom setting while interacting with students. Those skills are critical not only in an academic environment but also in corporate, government or nonprofit organizations.

Furthermore, the financial support provided by the University to GSIs helps them to pay for their graduate education. This financial support—salary, tuition and benefits—is part of the University's commitment to the success of our graduate students.

Teaching positions are just one form of financial support provided to our graduate students. The trend in many U-M departments is toward multi-year support packages for graduate students that combine teaching positions, research assistantships and fellowships. For example, in the History Department a standard model is a fellowship in Year 1, teaching position in Year 2, and a combination of the two in Years 3-5.

Whether or not a student goes on to a career in academe, being selected as a GSI ensures that their studies will be well supported and that they will have a fulfilling educational experience at the University.


GSIs Make Excellent Teachers

Our graduate programs are highly selective, and our graduate students truly represent the best and brightest in their fields. Because academic departments have a limited number of teaching positions, prospective GSIs go through an additional selection process so that when they enter the classroom they have demonstrated both the intellectual acuity and the desire to be there.

At a large, public university like Michigan, GSIs make it possible to offer a greater number of small classes, allowing more individual attention and active learning experiences for undergraduates. Graduate students are at the cutting edge of their fields, yet their age and their status as students allows them to relate well to undergraduates. GSIs approach their disciplines with a fresh perspective and creativity, transmitting their excitement to the undergraduates they teach. They are often willing to take risks in their teaching and to try out unusual approaches to their material.

GSIs can help their students see that the divide between students and faculty is not as great as they might have thought based on first impressions. And GSIs can mediate for undergraduates with their faculty instructors, letting faculty know, for instance, if students are having difficulty with the course content. They also serve as mentors and advisers to undergraduates about what experiences lie ahead, both during and beyond the college years. For those who aspire to go on to graduate school, GSIs can help provide a sense of what is possible.


GSIs Are Offered Extensive Training

The University works to create a strong foundation in teaching for GSIs. We do so by providing both University-wide and departmental training. The responsibility for the former rests primarily with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), the University's teaching enhancement center. Its instructional consultants conduct orientation programs for new GSIs each term and offer workshops all year on issues integral to teaching and learning. CRLT also has special programs for graduate student mentors, experienced GSIs who advise their peers on teaching-related issues. CRLT provides confidential consultations to individual GSIs, as well as midterm feedback that allows instructors to find out how their students are experiencing them as teachers.

However, GSI training also occurs within the departments and individual academic units. One goal of departmental training is to ensure that the information GSIs receive and the skills they are taught apply specifically to their fields. A second goal is to stress the importance of good teaching by using skilled faculty, the GSIs' role models, to develop and run the training sessions.

Training is appropriately tailored for each department. For example, the Department of English Language and Literature has a large number of GSIs. Graduate students do not teach until their second year, so they have time to adapt to their program of study. Then the prospective GSIs take a required three-credit course in pedagogy, the science of teaching. Concurrently, they lead discussion sections for large literature courses and are supervised by the professor teaching the course as they work with undergraduates in class and during office hours. This opportunity demonstrates to GSIs how the theory and practice of teaching are intertwined.

During the spring before their third year, English graduate students participate in a faculty-led GSI Training Workshop, where they learn such skills as how to write syllabi, grade student papers and lead class discussions. The following term most English GSIs begin teaching an introductory composition course. Throughout their first term they meet with faculty in small groups, called Teaching Circles. A faculty member also observes them once they begin teaching. To supplement these experiences, the English Department selects graduate student mentors who provide classroom visits and additional support, such as regular lunchtime programs on teaching. Together these experiences provide the skills English graduate students need to become excellent teachers.

New GSIs in Engineering participate in a daylong orientation during which they attend workshops, including "Preparing for the First Days of Class," "Teaching Labs," "Fostering discussion" and "Teaching Critical Thinking Skills," among others. The orientation attendees also participate in an interactive multicultural theater program during which they "help" a group of actors improve the classroom environment for underrepresented groups. In addition to the Teaching Orientation, the College of Engineering employs a number of experienced GSIs who serve as graduate student mentors (GSMs). GSM s consult with new GSIs, helping them with teaching and teaching-related issues. GSM s visit new GSIs' classes and sometimes talk to their students, giving the GSI valuable feedback to improve their teaching. The GSM s also work with experienced GSIs throughout their teaching careers, so at no point is a GSI in the College of Engineering without access to teaching support.

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Information About Graduate Student Instructors at the University of Michigan

Site updated March 31, 2008

Current or prospective graduate students seeking information on obtaining GSI/GSSA appointments should contact the academic department where they are enrolled, or plan to enroll. Information on all University of Michigan academic departments is located at

Those seeking appointments outside of their current field of study may want to visit the University site designed specifically for units that customarily hire graduate students from other departments. That site is located at:

This site is designed to provide information about GSIs, especially related to contract negotiations.
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