An Interview with an I-Corps TA
This is an interview with Leah Attruia, the Educational Outreach Coordinator at Georgia Tech’s VentureLab and recent teaching assistant (TA) for I-Corps.
“TA’ing is a robust role. You keep track of all the moving pieces and ensure they’re going together in the same direction. You interact with the teaching teams, the cohort teams, and are constantly in the background to ensure it goes smoothly.” - Leah Attruia
How did you get involved as a TA for I-Corps?
When I was applying for my outreach coordinator role at VentureLab, part of the description was that I’d have the opportunity to TA in a consultant role. That was one of the things that excited me about working at VentureLab, and I knew it was something that I was eventually going to start doing.
What did you do to prepare to TA for I-Corps?
Given the large role the TA plays in the National I-Corps program, I shadowed the previous TA in April - June, 2020. The TA would explain what’s going on and cc me on all correspondence so I could see what she talks about with the teams. I’d start to draft the emails for her at the end of the program and she’d let me know when there was additional information to add. This process allowed me to get comfortable with the syllabus and all the platforms that we used (Dropbox, Slack, etc).
What is the National Cohort schedule?
This National Cohort is my first time TA’ing for I-Corps. We started prepping for the I-Corps National Cohort in November and it kicked off January 19, 2021, over the course of four days. After the kickoff, we meet once a week for five weeks. Each week the teams present on their latest interviews and where they are in the process. The teaching team provides feedback that ‘teaches the room,’ focusing on helping the team that presented as well as the other teams watching.
It’s a seven week program in total and it closes next Friday, March 5, with a two-day program that has final presentations from the teams and discussions of the next steps with the teaching teams.
What is your role and what responsibilities did it require?
My main role is to communicate with the teaching team and all the teams. I create spreadsheets of scheduling, create rosters of participants, and attend each session.
It is my responsibility to be the go-to person for the teams. Each Wednesday I’ll send them an email to prepare them for their presentation the next day. Then on Thursday night, after their presentation, I’ll recap the day so they can reset for the following week.
I get to know my teams and the teaching team in my room very well. We’re very comfortable with each other and these bonds are one of the most special parts of this role.
What surprised you the most about the teams?
For that first month I was so scared, very tense and unsure how I was going to manage all the information coming in and that I was expected to send out. I was uncomfortable with the tech and nervous. However, once you get in the rhythm, you get into the flow and the comfort follows. It’s all about the rhythm. Looking forward, I know it will never be that hard again.
Also, because it’s all virtual, it’s totally different from the previous National I-Corps Cohorts that kick off in person, and there’s no manual for the virtual program. Before you’d have the opportunity at the kickoff to meet face to face and talk to teams, and now you have to build that connection in a virtual environment.
What was your favorite part?
My favorite part about it was greeting the participants when we start the day. They come into the virtual space and I am able to welcome them and make casual conversation as we check our mics and videos. That built an important human connection, similar as if it were in person. I also like knowing what to do and when things get busy. You have to backchannel with the teaching team and VentureWell—you’re keeping time, pulling up presentations, answering occasional questions. There are a lot of moving parts and it feels good that after shadowing and diving into the process, I know how to run the program on the backend while enjoying the frontend.
I like the fact that it’s a national program, so teams are from all parts of the country. It was nice to have the entire United States represented and people coming together for these weeks from all different cities, states, and schools. You never know who you’re going to meet or how you’ll be more connected.
How were your interactions with the teaching team/teams?
Keith McGreggor, Executive Director of I-Corps South and an I-Corp teacher, has been the lead instructor and he very much sets the tone and vibe in a positive manner. It was fun to see the backend with the teaching teams and hear what they talked about, while also being a conduit and sharing information with the teams.
What advice do you have for future I-Corps TA’s?
The main thing to remember is that if you stay calm, everyone else will stay calm. Also, if anyone is going to TA for a national program, you should shadow the TA for a different cohort before the program you are TA’ing for begins. The experienced TA knew the inner workings and was good at making me pay attention to multiple things and providing an outline for how I could succeed as a TA in the future. It is important to learn TA etiquette, so also don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s the best way to ensure up front that you’re learning best practices to carry to the future.