Sunday, October 26, 2008
(Teaching vs. Research) vs. (Teaching and Research)
Many of my academic friends who blog have blogged in the past on the issue of Teaching and Research. I have participated in the comments on these. It is my humble submission that those who are primarily engaged in research actually do not really understand or appreciate how much it takes to be a good teacher. Often the arguments run that those in Research Institutes who are not doing great work and are somehow falling behind could be farmed off to Teaching Institutes. In fact one could write a farcical counter-proposal to this as follows: "X was hired to to a teaching Institute. Over the years X started getting really sick of students and teaching. He found that he does not find students questions and grading interesting any more. The Head of the Department summons him and says that we are aware that you once did some research also. In your graduate students days you held a research assistantship and even wrote a couple of papers. Now that you are really falling behind in teaching, maybe you should seriously consider a change in career and take up research in one of our premier Research Institutes. After all, all these years in a teaching environment would have given you special skills to deal with unpredictable situations that could arise in a research environment." Now back to reality after a few moments with farce: It is only recently I have come to discover how hard it is to hold the attention of students for a semester, leave alone a year. Not that I have not taught before; in fact I have been teaching for over a decade, not counting years of teaching assistantships during graduate student days. Recently I have been teaching some additonal classes as students wanted to learn about some advanced topics, not connected to the course I teach. The patience that is needed to prepare for lecture after lecture, make up homework assignments, conduct tests and exams, see students off and on is almost superhuman. Furthermore, if one's mind is so preoccupied, how is it possible to really do research? The magnitude of work required to do a good job of research is also awesome. Maybe it is only superhumans who can do a good job of both at the same time?