By Armughan Syed MPA 2024
As you’re thinking about the many opportunities that await you as part of your HKS experience, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about being a course assistant.
Before I do that, let me introduce myself. I’m a Pakistani-Swiss citizen, a father to a one-year old, and a public interest technology nerd. Before coming to HKS, I was a Senior Program Manager on Meta’s Trust & Safety team. I’ve lived in Boston before as an undergrad at Boston University, so the New England winters are familiar, and in many ways, a welcome change from my life in Los Angeles over the last decade.
When I came to HKS, I had the goal of working closely with the amazing professors here, and I wanted to expand upon my background in training and capacity building.
During my first year at HKS, I have had the opportunity to be a course assistant for Professor LaTanya Sweeney’s technology policy courses Grand Challenges in Technology-Society Clashes (DPI-642) and Technology and the Public Interest: From Democracy to Technocracy and Back (DPI-640). As a course assistant, I was responsible for assignment grading, assignment design, and overall course administration along with our amazing teaching team. I’ve learned a few things about being a Course Assistant (CA) this year, and I’m happy to share these tips.
Find courses that tap into your expertise
When I came to HKS, I looked for courses that focused on the society-technology clashes that I had seen firsthand at Meta. Professor Sweeney’s courses fell squarely into that category. I could use my work experience to add value to the course, especially in providing input into the assignments.
Reach out to professors directly
I applied to be a CA for other courses and had fruitful conversations with other professors on their course’s vision. These conversations were really valuable because I understood how professors thought of their courses. Keep in mind, becoming a course assistant is usually tied to taking the course first or having relevant work experience!
Learning does not stop as a Course Assistant
If you are a Course Assistant for a course that you have never taken, be a student whenever you can be. The speakers who visit HKS classes can be amazing! I often found myself wanting to raise my hand to participate because the conversation in class was scintillating. Take every opportunity to soak in the class content.
Find the balance with your own work
Being a Course Assistant is work! You will have your own course load, and you will need to allocate time to grade assignments (among other class responsibilities). Being a CA gives you fantastic experience in multitasking, and I’ve learned valuable lessons about staying organized with my work.
Stay in touch with the professor after the class
Finally, being a CA helps you build a closer relationship with a professor you may want to do research with while at HKS. As a CA, you learn how the professor shapes their pedagogy, and you can be a thought partner. Staying in touch is crucial as you move on to greater things (which you undoubtedly will).
As I’m closing out my first year at HKS, my goal is to continue being a Course Assistant. I have loved the opportunity to deliver valuable learning to my peers, learn from the teaching team, and build a strong relationship with professors.
Being at HKS is a wonderful journey, and my experience being a CA has been a deeply impactful and fulfilling part of that journey.
Photo courtesy of Armughan Syed