They are the ones that end class early when they have a date, but extend it when you do. Like Ring Wraiths and souls in purgatory, they balance in their half-lives between professorship and minion.

And by some lucky chance, they get paid to attend discussion section.

Teaching assistants, or TAs, play an invaluable role in an undergraduate’s education, especially when one will extend the deadline for a paper. Creeping in the shadows of their masters, these lackeys will grade your work, administer your tests and lead your labs and sections.

Departments typically assign graduate students from within the department as TAs for their various classes, although selection criteria and appointments differ from program to program. The positions are not very competitive and appointments indefinite, said Assistant Dean of the Graduate Division Mary McMahon.

“There is no time limit on TA appointments, it just depends on how long it takes them to complete their degree,” she said. “We know that the number of grad students working as TAs is approaching half during any given quarter.”

TAs generally work at 50 percent time and are paid $14,145 annually, broken up into $4,715 a quarter or $1,572 a month. Training is mandatory and includes a required videotaped discussion section or lab that is reviewed by the university’s TA Development Program.

Large classes usually demand multiple TAs, while some smaller introductory classes are taught solely by graduate students.

“TAs tend to be more approachable than professors because they are closer to students in age and aren’t as caught up in writing books,” junior history and Slavic studies major Jenny Mundy said. “They’re not quite in the ivory tower yet.”

“I consider working as a TA to be an integral part of my training to become a professor and have learned a great deal in each class that I have taught,” said English and women’s studies graduate Andrea Fontenot. “That said, it is undeniable that teaching every quarter makes it difficult to focus on my own coursework and research. I think most graduate students would agree that this is the only drawback to being a TA.”