In many graduate programs, students have the opportunity to work as teaching assistants. This can be a great way to finance your education, as teaching assistant positions at many universities come with full or partial tuition fee waivers. Being a teaching assistant is also a form of apprenticeship: it’s designed to give you an opportunity to learn how to manage students and a classroom before you take on a the full responsibilities of a professor.

For many dissertation writers, though, teaching can be a big distraction that keeps you from the important work of writing, editing, and formatting that dissertation. If you enjoy teaching, it can be especially easy to devote all of your time to perfecting your lesson plans and helping your students. It’s important to find strategies that will help you stay on task and keep writing, even when teaching is competing for your time. Remember: your primary job as a PhD student is to finish your dissertation!

Earmark Your Time

When I was writing my dissertation and teaching, I designated specific times to spend working on grading and lesson plans. As much as possible, didn’t work on teaching-related activities outside of those times. This helped me focus: I had designated times when my job was to work on classroom-related material, and times when my job was to work on my dissertation. By treating my teaching prep and grading as tasks that happened at specific times, it was easier to not let them eat into my precious dissertation writing time!

Use Office Hours Wisely

As a teaching assistant, you may be required to hold regular office hours when your students can come and consult with you. Use these office hours wisely. If students don’t show up, or if you have time between student appointments, you can use that time for grading or prep work, killing two birds with one stone.

Grade Efficiently

When you first start working as a teaching assistant, you may find that it takes you a long time to grade papers and exams. It does get easier: as you learn what to look for, you can get through your grading much more quickly. There are easy ways to make grading faster. If you’re grading papers, tell your students that you’ll only write detailed comments if they specifically request them. Many students don’t bother reading comments, so this will spare you from having to write extensive comments on every paper. Students can also come and speak to you in person if they want detailed feedback on their work. If you’re grading exams, draft an answer key so that you have a guide to quickly compare student answers to. Grading can be a major time sink, so try to do your grading efficiently! Natascha Chtena at Gradhacker has some great tips for getting through a pile of grading.

Ask for Help and Share Materials

Don’t be shy about asking more experienced teaching assistants for advice. They may be willing to share their lesson plans or grading schemas, which will help you budget your time more effectively. If you have friends who also work as teaching assistants, consider pooling your materials and resources. You could create a shared Dropbox or Google Drive folder of teaching material, which you an all draw on. By sharing materials, you’ll learn new teaching strategies, and you’ll also be able to save time to work on dissertation writing, formatting and editing. As John Warner of Inside Higher Ed reminds us, teaching can be easier and more rewarding, if you approach it as a collaborative venture.

I’ve seen many colleagues fall in love with teaching and devote hours and hours to grading and lesson plans. But their dissertations often take a back seat, and they take much longer to finish their degrees. It’s crucial to remember to balance your teaching and dissertation writing responsibilities. Your job as a PhD student is to write that dissertation!

If teaching has put you behind on your dissertation goals, working with our dissertation coaches and dissertation consultants can help you get back on track. A dissertation editor can also help you use your time effectively by providing specific, guided feedback on your dissertation writing. A dissertation formatting expert can take care of your dissertation’s final formatting so that you don’t have to.