Scholars and Teachers on Divergent Paths

Mar 18 2010 Published by under Careerism, Education, Mentoring, Tribe of Science

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Research (source)
via Female Science Professor. A recent news bit in the Chronicle of Higher Education details another case in which the alleged three legged stool of Professorial careerdom (teaching, research, service) is revealed to stand only on the one leg- research.

his department's tenure-and-promotion guidelines.. were revised in 2000, shortly after he had received the university's Distinguished Teaching Award and a similar prize from a statewide association of governing boards.
Under the revised criteria, faculty members are given many more points for supervising graduate students than for teaching undergraduate courses. "I can teach an undergraduate course with 44 students and get only three points," Mr. Vable says. "But a faculty member who supervises a graduate student gets 19 points and can be released from course duty. So that totally skewed the algorithm."

Well, at least they are up front about it.


Look, this is no surprise to me and it shouldn't be to you either. Even in primarily teaching-focused colleges you can have evidence of "scholarship" raising its head as being more-equal than teaching excellence. Research University? Forgeddaboutit. I've never yet heard of a professor with high research productivity and grant acquisition being held back in any serious way because of crappy teaching. It may happen somewhere but it sure isn't common. OTOH, reports of faculty with teaching accolades being denied tenure because of a failure to generate a sufficiently active or awesomez! research program are easy to find.
I'm not so concerned about the specifics of this case. About whether the University changed promotion criteria mid-stream, whether a faculty member was a fool or not to believe the three-legged-stool lie when originally hired, what this dude's publication rate was relative to colleagues, etc.
The question is whether this is a good thing to be doing in our higher education / academic research institutions. What does it mean to be a faculty member of a research university? Are we right to be encouraging a sort of dual-track separation between researchers and teachers?

Mr. Vable, for his part, believes Michigan Tech is still far out of balance. Last month students in Michigan Tech's College of Engineering named him one the college's best three instructors. He used the occasion to write an open letter to students. "We are creating a system where teachers and scholars are on divergent paths," he wrote.

Whether or not this is the case at that University, at least Professor* Vable's provost argues that this is not the intent.

"I firmly believe in the unity of teaching and research at a doctoral university," Mr. Seel says. "And hopefully discussions about how to achieve that balance will never end. Those discussions are healthy for all of us."

I don't know that I agree with this and I certainly believe that our business has been actively dissolving this relationship for a long time. The reasons for tenure-denial and failure to make full professor are one area in which this is apparent. Also the relative number of teaching hours covered by temporary vs. tenure track staff. The way research grant awards can be used to "buy-out" of teaching duties.
I am just not convinced that undergraduate education, as education, is superior at a research institution. Teaching is.....a thing. An art, a craft, a profession, a vocation...call it what you will, not everyone can do it. Not everyone can excel at it. And it takes work. Real work. Focus. I just don't see how anyone can argue that the teaching / learning part of undergraduate studies is not superior when the instructor has but the single job- of teaching undergraduates.
Now, there may be other benefits to being around research or cutting edge humanities scholarship, particularly for those who will eventually continue into academic-type careers. I am not sure these benefits outweigh the cost of inferior education for the vast majority of college students who will not go on to graduate studies.
The conversation over at FSP's place seems to be focused a little bit on the cost angle. Are undergrads being forced to pay for research activities of doctoral students and faculty from which they do not benefit?
I'd ask the other question- are NIH funds being used to underwrite general undergraduate education? Do those grants keep the University infrastructure rocking, thereby lowering tuition costs? How much of that grant/University time allocation edges over to the professor engaging (reluctantly) in his or her teaching responsibilities on the NIH grant dime? If those alleged educational benefits of active research laboratories are accruing to the student (see this comment), what fraction should be charged to the tuition bill and what fraction to the NIH dime?
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*Anyone know why the Chronicle doesn't use "Dr." or "Professor" and opts for "Mr./Ms."?

87 responses so far

  • Kate says:

    I would suggest we already have these two paths, in many disciplines and in many universities: adjuncts and tenure-line. The problem is that, even though adjuncts work incredibly hard and have the same credentials as the tenure-line folks, they are paid crap and have no job security. Let's give them more of a say in the conditions of their work, create more shared governance for all faculty, recognize adjuncts' hard work, and give them job security, pay and benefits equivalent to tenure-track people who have a greater research expectation.
    At least, that's my first contribution to the conversation. I think future comments could address far more subtlety and problematize my first recommendation more than I just have.

  • bsci says:

    I am just not convinced that undergraduate education, as education, is superior at a research institution.
    I might buy this if your premise is that education is defined as stuff directly related to courses. An undergrad working is a lab can get serious and extremely valuable education. Undergrads at research universities who aren't taking advantage of research options are missing out on one of the biggest benefits of these schools.

  • whimple says:

    I haven't heard of anyone's tenure decision critically hinging on their "service" either. Research is the cake, and teaching/service is the frosting. I would go a step further and suggest that "Research" really is a two-legged stool of "Extramural Cash" and "Papers". These legs are more balanced, but big-Cash forgives crappy papers in a way that big-Papers doesn't really forgive the lack of Cash. I don't know why the U's persist with this Research-Teaching-Service fiction... Teaching is farm-outable for cheap, and nobody ever does any useful Service. 🙂

  • DrugMonkey says:

    hahahahaha, whimple, apparently I'm so hardwired to believe service doesn't come into play that I failed to so much as mention this at all....
    bsci, yes for people who will be going on to similar careers. the vast majority of undergrads who take a course or two, heck even who minor, in -ology never end up in a career related to -ology. benefits of lab work for the general public? hmm, well I think there may be an argument to be made but the Universities and colleges are not currently making this argument, are they? Is novel research a requirement? or are canned labs the closest anything comes?
    Also, I'm familiar with a few small-college type of research labs which manage to do novel work, albeit at a very slow rate and in a very limited domain. these are *excellent* training, however. I see no reason that this modest-scope research cannot cover the vast majority of bases when it comes to general education. leave the -omicsELEVEN crap for graduate study- really, what would be lost? most undergraduates in those labs are just washing dishes anyway....

  • becca says:

    As a graduate student, the next time my PI tells me he won't be able to meet with me for two months, does this mean I can tell him he should be demanding to get enough credit from the university so I count for 6.333 courses? That, as a graduate student, if I don't take up at LEAST 19 hours/week of his time (figuring based on most classes are at least 3 contact hours), I'm not doing my job as a student to get him his teaching opportunities?
    Actually, my PI is awesome and always has time for me... except when he's preparing a grant. So it wouldn't actually do much good to release him from teaching time. Still, I like imagining his expression if I told him this...
    "Are undergrads being forced to pay for research activities of doctoral students and faculty from which they do not benefit? "
    Tuition doesn't usually subsidize research. At a state school, even Michigan tech, I'm guessing it's unlikely tuition even covers classroom hour coverage.
    "Do those grants keep the University infrastructure rocking, thereby lowering tuition costs?" Yes, obviously increasing dependence on NIH dollars has lead to tuition decreasing over the past few years. Why, didn't you notice that the institutions with the lowest tuition always have the most NIH funding?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    try not to miss the point so spectacularly, becca. if we are crediting the argument that all this cutting edge research provides a fantabulous benefit to the undergraduate population, the question is about who is paying for what. what would that fantabulous benefit cost to provide in the absence of federal funding?

  • bsci says:

    If sitting in an intermediate -ology class and absorbing information is considered a valuable education experience, then working in a -ology lab is also valuable education. Seeing what it requires to take an idea from start to finish (or from start to half-done) is valuable well beyond grooming future scientists. Sitting in a journal-club/lab meeting where experts tear to shreds an article that seemed ok for you is also a useful education.
    I don't deny that some small-colleges can give these experiences, but the availability to students and the potential quality of these experiences are greater at research universities (though there are lousy labs everywhere).
    As for colleges not making this argument, find me a undergrad admissions advertisement from a research university that doesn't include a bunch of students surrounded by beakers or some other setting that isn't merely a lab class. They are clearly presenting this as an important part of the college experience.

  • TheBrummell says:

    The majority of science professors and science graduate students I've spoken with went through / are going through graduate school in order to be researchers; the majority of grad students aim to become professors, but significant minorities also aim for industry or government research positions. Almost nobody tells me they're doing this so they can teach.
    Yes, professors who prefer (and are better at) teaching rather than research are not particularly uncommon; I expect most departments have one or two, and another one or two professors who come pretty close to a 50/50 balance (continuing to ignore the service/administration leg for this discussion). But they're certainly not a majority.
    Why would somebody go through so much work, so many years being paid a pitance, to become a teacher when formal teacher training is so much faster? After an undergraduate degree, walking out with a PhD takes at least 5 years (OK, sure, some people get it in 3), but full teacher certification takes, what, 1 year? 18 months? And if your background and enthusiasm is in science, your job prospects with a teaching cert. are pretty good, especially compared with the post-doc market and the even later tenure-track application process.
    So, if you want to teach, go teach. But if you want to do research, go to graduate school, work through a couple of post-doc positions, and become a professor. Then suddenly you'll have to teach, too. It's widely regarded as an unpleaseant duty, a necessary evil, by professors, which is one reason why so many options for reducing that burden have come into play.
    I don't expect promotions at the professor level (tenure, associate-to-full prof, etc) to be more influenced by teaching any time soon - the majority of professors probably want to minimize teaching and focus on what they love to do - research.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    They are clearly presenting this as an important part of the college experience.
    It is a marketing tool. I am talking about what is considered to be essential by being enshrined in the list of requirements for graduation. Being informed on some stuff via lecture and reading and being tested for knowledge is so enshrined. Laboratory experience of a fundamentally useful type (not just glass washing, not just canned labs) in an active (highly active?) setting is not so enshrined.
    If sitting in an intermediate -ology class and absorbing information is considered a valuable education experience, then working in a -ology lab is also valuable education.
    right, but if your class experience is *inferior* because of the University faculty structure *and* you do not choose to work in the lab than the overall population level education is inferior.

  • bsci says:

    DM, I agree that going to a research university and not directly taking part in research can give you an inferior education to some teaching-focused colleges. That said, I do think most colleges consider this an important part of undergrad education even if it's not required. Students often don't do all their course readings and get a degree with an inferior formal education than if they did those readings. That doesn't mean the college doesn't value students completing all course work.
    TheBrummell, the majority of grad students aim to become professors, but significant minorities also aim for industry or government research positions. Almost nobody tells me they're doing this so they can teach.
    At least from the one, large data set I've seen on this topic, you are wrong. This chart can be found several places, but here's a copy: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/11/pdf/women_and_sciences.pdf
    Figure 7 on page 14 shows the career goals of male and female grad students at the beginning and ends of their training for students at all University of California campuses. 17% of men and 22% of women STARTED grad school planning to become a professor with a teaching emphasis. Even for starting postdocs, 5% of men and 8% of women start their postdocs planning to get a teaching emphasis job.
    For what it's worth only 38% starting female grad students plan to become professors with a research emphasis while 36% are planning on business/government/other. Even for men only 45% enter grad school thinking primarily research. The numbers at the end of grad school are level lower for research faculty plans.
    So no, the majority of grad students don't enter school planning to become research professors.

  • Arlenna says:

    As a TT professor at a research university, I am TRYING to provide undergraduate research experiences but finding that it's difficult to obtain sufficient resources for this until you have something like an NSF grant that you can leverage into REU funding.
    During the year, sure, they can do research for credit but they don't have enough time in their schedules to really dig into something. Summer is when they learn the most. There are not that many summer funding slots, and I can't afford to pay them all (I have 5--paying all of them for the summer would cost as much as a postdoc!), so inevitably some of them lose out. And my current 5 are only a tiny fraction of our hundreds of students who want to do research--I get almost 20 requests a year from interested students but there is no way my lab can afford the time or money to help them. Almost every lab in my dept. has at least one undergrad, but there just aren't enough resources to cover as many student as want to do it.

  • Namnezia says:

    I don't know. I work at a research university which also has a large undergraduate population. Most faculty in my department are very active researchers with multiple grants, big papers, etc. We are also unusual in that we do a fair amount of undergraduate teaching, and I think that for the most part the teaching level is excellent (I should know, I also used to be an undergraduate student here). It is very common for most labs to have several undergrads. During the year they work for credit, during the summer they get a small stipend, about half of those through university and donor-sponsored fellowships. Typically in my lab I have 4 undergrads, 2 seniors working on a thesis and 2 juniors getting ready to work on a thesis. Almost all of them have been authors in lab publications, some have been first authors. Most go to med school (unfortunately!). Usually they work under a grad student or a postdoc and for the most part they tend to work quite hard and do a very good job.
    So I disagree with DM. It IS possible to have both good teaching and research. Technically, on an NIH grant my percent effort is about 20% (or so, I think), and that covers part of my salary. But never the less the research goes on 100% of the time, so the NIH dime is not spent on "teaching". And my university salary is given with the understanding that part of my duties are research and teaching, both of which benefit the university and the students.

  • Justin says:

    I think it is pretty well established how the system works. The three legged stool model is clearly only a model. This is reinforced in graduate training, where the better ranked programs guarantee research funding for their grad students and minimal TA responsibilities.
    This is bad for science in the long term.
    Sure, a prof can focus on their research and grant writing and bring in enough money so that their grad students don't have to TA either. And profs which have high-quality research do just this and it results in huge short term benefits. But it bites science in the ass eventually, because you end up isolating the brightest minds into the labs. The undergrads are not just students... soon, they are going to be journalists, politicians, teachers, managers, engineers, and (most importantly) voters. Ultimately, it is the undergrads who will be making the decisions about NIH and NSF budgets. By isolating the top researchers from undergrads, you make it a lot easier for creationism/anti-vax/anti-vivisection/neuromarketing to have a huge influence on societal decisions and legislation.
    And I do not believe the "you've got it or you don't" approach to teaching. Teaching (like research) is a skill that can be selected for, developed and trained.
    I raise my eyebrows when I hear my fellow grad students and/or professors bitch and moan about how horrible K-12 science education is or how inaccurate science reporting is. These failures exist because the only group of people which can truly educate on the topics are too focused chasing publications and grant money.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    In a way I have to respect the universities which are upfront about their tenure requirements: $N in funding gets you assistant professor and $M gets you full prof. Simple and straightforward.
    Now, for those who want some sort of balance for teaching, should tuition dollars be counted in? That would seem to fit into the more market-driven approach which is fashionable elsewhere.

  • whimple says:

    Now, for those who want some sort of balance for teaching, should tuition dollars be counted in?
    In my area of the world, tuition dollars are negative since we pay the students to be here.

  • ponderingfool says:

    These failures exist because the only group of people which can truly educate on the topics are too focused chasing publications and grant money.
    ************************
    Or it might be because there are groups in our society with deep pockets who have economic interests that favor them clouding the public's understand of science while the interests favoring science education don't have the same economic clout.

  • becca says:

    DM- Try not to be a jerk so spectacularly. We probably actually agree more than we disagree, but I can't be sure...I really tried (multiple times), but I am unsure exactly what your point is. You may think your style for posing questions is "Socratic" or generative, but it might just be Ladenesque.
    "if we are crediting the argument that all this cutting edge research provides a fantabulous benefit to the undergraduate population, the question is about who is paying for what."
    I'm not sure I *do* credit this argument (see below). In any event, I don't see things as: "tuition subsidizes research" OR "NIH dollars subsidize undergrad classroom hours". Maybe "biology subsidizes philosophy" (although that's highly debatable if you're not talking major NIH dollars) or "adjuncts subsidize spoiled undergrad climbing gyms and sabbaticals for full profs" or even "tuition + grants subsidize provost salary" 😉 (seriously, the blame the administrators trick is so popular I don't think anyone actually tries to figure out if it's at all plausible... I've got my suspicions that it isn't, but it's too fun to resist)
    "Laboratory experience of a fundamentally useful type (not just glass washing, not just canned labs) in an active (highly active?)
    setting is not so enshrined."

    I'm not sure that would be trying to enshrine the right thing. I know I had a variety of lab experiences in undergrad, including (but not limited to):
    1) canned labs in bio and physics where everything went as expected and was insultingly boring; taught by bored TAs
    2) canned labs in chemistry where everything did NOT go as expected and were frustrating, if sometimes interesting. If I'd taken these classes at my research uni, these would have been taught by bored TAs; instead I took them at community colleges and got brilliant teachers
    3) canned labs in biochemistry where everything ran like CLOCKWORK due to a horde of dedicated grad student TAs running the experiments with us; taught by a non TT professor who was among the most attentive and wonderful I had
    4) semi-canned labs in microbiology where everything did NOT go as expected because we were doing actual (albeit cheap and not cutting-edge) research in a classroom setting; taught by a non researchy prof (not sure if he was tenure track or not) who was very good
    5) dishwashing in soybean research lab (got pay and tantalized with research opportunities that never materialized)
    6) Hughes undergrad research fellowship; summer spent doing microbiology research in respectable lab with my own project and expected to present a poster at the end (got pay and class credit)
    7) volunteering-turned-paid job post-graduation in a lab doing cutting edge NIH funded planarian research
    Guess which opportunities were the most valuable? 3) and 7), hands down. Closely followed by 4).
    Weirdly, the dishwashing was better than the undergrad fellowship because of the particulars of the labs (at least I had good coworkers in the soybean lab). 6) nearly turned me off of science entirely.
    Since 7) was technically predominantly *post* undergrad, I'd say if you really care about undergrad education, you ought to focus on providing quality classroom labs. Since those are time and energy intensive as all get out for faculty, they almost by necessity take away from major NIH grant oriented research.
    "These failures exist because the only group of people which can truly educate on the topics are too focused chasing publications and grant money."
    I disagree. K-12 science education sucks because K-12 EDUCATION sucks. Texas: "We don't need no US Constitutions in our classrooms! Lest not that pesky "church and state" separation bit... the 2nd amendment's fine, I s'pose"
    The reason we can't get science majors to go into science education is because science majors aren't moronic- they know they'll get better pay and less stress elsewhere.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    In my area of the world, tuition dollars are negative since we pay the students to be here.

    Rather the opposite on this side of the Pond, and even on your side the Government ponies up to some extent based on a per-student basis. Around here there's a big disagreement over how much the undergraduate student funding (State plus tuition plus donations) is supposed to cover, with the obvious players saying the obvious things.
    #13 mentions part of the reason why: the general public sees universities as "education" and wants their money going to that [1]. Regardless of the actual value of postgraduate studies and research, the general public sees little of it. Your average Joe Public with a BS knows he paid about $50,000 for about 1920 classroom hours (mostly spent in lecture halls with hundreds of other students) to listen to "graduate students." By this point he can probably do the arithmetic to come up with the revenue per hour of a 300-student class -- and when the time comes to start writing tuition checks for his kids might wonder what the money is buying compared to a community college.
    Rather than wait for him to ask, it's good to get the message out into the common knowledge pool.
    [1] Well, that and sports.

  • DK says:

    Where I am, the only time teaching enters the equation is student evaluations for tenure track faculty. To get tenure, evaluations must be glowing, so everyone hands only As not to jeopardize one's chances. (Of course, "big bucks" will override this concern but big bucks are exception for junior faculty).
    The whole "research is essential for good teaching" thing is 100% bogus. At research universities, most "teachers" hate teaching and, all else being equal, the better (more prestigious) a university is, the worse undergraduate education is there.
    Teaching is hard *and* it requires talent. And there is no "free money" to do it. If there was a real competition, only limited number of people would have survived. So instead, researchers ( and "scholars") end up subverting the whole idea and getting tenures for pursuing avenues to get bigger monetary rewards for less effort.
    Get scientists to research institutes and teachers back to universities and maybe we can get students to learn something useful instead of simply being credentialed.

  • Joe says:

    Typical overhead from a single R01 can pay for 3-4 full-time instructors. Thus, promoting research kills two birds with one stone. Promoting teaching only sort of wounds one bird.

  • Hope says:

    Perhaps there are some individuals who, through a combination of hard work and talent, excel at both teaching and research, but they are the exception, not the rule. So to me it makes sense to have a research-oriented track and a teaching-oriented one, since most people excel/prefer one or the other. I’m not sure which arrangement is best: should research- and teaching-only faculty get tenure? Should they get paid the same with similar benefits? I don’t know that either of these is absolutely necessary, but certainly the disparity in pay and benefits that exists between tenured faculty and adjuncts/lecturers is too great to make such a division of labor viable. So the system would have to change….
    I had some amazing teachers who were also great researchers at my research-oriented undergrad institution – and I agree that this is the ideal. But let’s be honest: most of the time, most students *do not* experience this ideal, and to me, having a prof who is teaching-focused is clearly better than the reverse. And the reverse is what the majority of students experience now, thanks to the current system that selects for research dollars over teaching skill. It’s high time for research universities to do more than just pay lip service to the importance of teaching.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Typical overhead from a single R01 can pay for 3-4 full-time instructors.

    But is that a prudent investment of the money, or would a wise university spend it on more researchers who can bring in more grants?

  • DK says:

    Typical overhead from a single R01 can pay for 3-4 full-time instructors.

    But is that a prudent investment of the money, or would a wise university spend it on more researchers who can bring in more grants?

    It depends on what the goal of the "wise" university is. If the goal is to get bigger and bigger and be able to pay for more and more of all kinds of "scholars" then yes, screw teaching and do everything to get as many grants as possible. If, however, the wise university wants to perhaps have something to do with increasing the quality of education in the society as a whole then hiring professional dedicated teachers will get it closer to that goal.

  • Joe says:

    DK, I don't think you get it. Grant money creates jobs for 'professional dedicated teachers'.
    ... and keeps the researchers/bad teachers sequestered in the lab, harmlessly away from the students.

  • whimple says:

    Ah, no. Grant money pays for new buildings to be filled with new grant-getters. Of course, there also needs to be some suitably generously compensated administrators to oversee the whole operation...

  • (1) Students at research universities are not just paying tuition to sit in a class room and be lectured to. By paying tuition, they are also entitled to work with faculty on original research. When I was an undergraduate, several faculty spent what probably amounted to 100s of hours each mentoring and otherwise working with me on my undergraduate research projects.
    (2) My understanding is that the undergraduates who pay the highest tuition in the country are not at research universities, but rather at the elite small liberal arts colleges. Now what's subsidizing what, again?
    (3) If fuckwad didn't want to do research, he shouldn't have taken a position at a "research" university. I have zero sympathy for this tenured douchebag who is too lazy to keep his research program going and too entitled to keep his fucking head down about it.

  • Namnezia says:

    DK says:

    The whole "research is essential for good teaching" thing is 100% bogus. At research universities, most "teachers" hate teaching and, all else being equal, the better (more prestigious) a university is, the worse undergraduate education is there.

    I disagree with you, how do you know that most teachers at research universities hate teaching? I certainly don't and most of my colleagues don't either. Same thing for my colleagues at other research universities. Sure, you may find some people who hate teaching, but in my personal experience this is not the norm. In the same way you can find crappy professors in any college.
    As far as your second point about the more prestigious the university is the worse the teaching, again I disagree. My university goes through great pains to provide high quality teaching and spends a lot of resources to help junior faculty sharpen their teaching skills. Also, being in the admissions committee of our graduate program, I see that usually the undergrads coming from 'prestigious' universities are generally the strongest applicants and the ones that do better once they are in graduate school. I'm not saying that small colleges have bad teaching, some do and some don't. The same can be said for research universities.

  • DK says:

    Joe: DK, I don't think you get it. Grant money creates jobs for 'professional dedicated teachers' ... and keeps the researchers/bad teachers sequestered in the lab, harmlessly away from the students.
    Yes, I don't get it. Care to explain? The picture you paint is not what I see. Most of the professors in my department are bad teachers, some of them wrote bad textbooks, and in almost every case the exams are designed first and foremost for the ease of grading. TAing is a joke because 90% of the time TAs simply recite things they don't themselves understand. Things are not much better with graduate education: as a rule, students are thrown into the water and are expected to swim. The supervision is restricted to being told what to do. The hand-on teaching is minimal to non-existent. Blind teaching blind is rampant. That's why the average time in the graduate program is 5.9 years (it takes a lot of time to self-learn by trial and effort; many fail it altogether - and still get their Ph.D.s).

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Grants let departments grow to larger sizes than can be supported by the university. They support graduate education by doing so.

  • Cherish says:

    I find this whole discussion ironic: profs don't want to or can't spend time teaching, yet complain about the poorly educated students who apply for grad school. Do you suppose those student's profs felt like their classroom hours were being wasted? Maybe they had no incentive to motivate their students?
    I've taken classes at several different schools. The more prestigious the research, the more lackluster the teaching. There were individuals who were exceptions (good teacher at a research U, crappy teacher at a teaching U, although the crappy teacher was better than the bad teachers at the research U), but that is the general trend I've observed.
    I've seen good teachers also be respectable researchers - but part of that was their ability to work with students and keep them motivated. (As a hint, it didn't involve yelling at them a lot.) So I think it is possible to do both, but quite possibly not at the level of research an R1 would require.

  • Joe says:

    Where the hell is becca? A long time ago in the comments of this very blog she posted a link to a talk by a quite successful researcher who blabbed on and on about how great research and great teaching go hand in hand.
    This whole 'teaching vs. research' false dichotomy is bullshit, perpetrated by faculty wannabees who can't compete and bitter students who wrongly think their tuition dollars actually cover the cost of their education. The fact is, kiddees, you can't compete as a researcher without a decent ability to teach -- in your job talk, in your grant proposals, in your papers. Getting grants is all about getting people excited about what you do, and publishing is all about educating your peers. That's teaching. And it's a hell of a lot harder than pandering to 19 year olds who just want their degree with a minimum of hassle. And for the students out there who think they aren't being subsidized -- take a look at your university budget. If you're at a state school, your education is subsidized 25-50% by the state. That's why out-of-state tuition is higher, and why schools are in such trouble now that state budgets are in crisis, and why, as CPP pointed out, private undergraduate 'teaching-intensive' institutions cost so much. If you want to know how much excellent undergraduate education really costs, without much subsidy by the state or research, check out tuition at Princeton and other ivy leagues. It's not cheap. And even then, give thanks to the endowments, which cover 20-50% of operating costs at some of these places.
    The chance to learn from a great mind, someone actually creating knowledge, is way more valuable than some doofus who just happens to be a chapter ahead of you in the textbook.

  • CT says:

    I have to disagree somewhat with Joe. Certainly being successful as a researcher usually includes being a good communicator. Not always-I have seen folks who are successful because they have great ideas and work their asses off, but give crappy talks and have their old postdoc advisors rewrite their papers. More commonly, however, if you have good data, any trained monkey can give a good job talk or seminar-you are speaking to an audience that is on average much smarter, more motivated, and knowledgable than your typical sophomore Genetics class.
    A lot of college undergrad teaching at research unis consists of giving 50 minute seminars 3 times/week, plus writing and grading exams. This can certainly be very labor intensive, especially if you're not content to take the Powerpoints form the previous prof., change the font, and run with them. But it doesn't require near the teaching skill as a smaller class with a lab, or even a high school class.
    Whether or not being a successful researcher improves one's teaching to a degree that can be discerned by the typical undergrad is still an open question to me. I've co-taught with folks who have a 100% teaching position, and at times, I can see them give an incomplete answer to a question. That could be a weak point in their knowledge, OR they know that the fun little exceptions to the rules that excite researchers will only confuse the undergrad. And if it is a weak point-how likely is it that the student will know?
    As far as the original article goes, I don't have much sympathy for the guy. Your employer gets to set the terms of promotion. If other faculty with similar teacher/research balance had been promoted to Full Prof., I'd see his point. But he can't unilateraly decide that teaching well will substitute for successful research.

  • Hope says:

    @Joe: If you want to know how much excellent undergraduate education really costs, without much subsidy by the state or research, check out tuition at Princeton and other ivy leagues.
    Funny, because it was my experience as an undergrad at one of these institutions that prompted me to write: “Perhaps there are some individuals who, through a combination of hard work and talent, excel at both teaching and research, but they are the exception, not the rule.”
    I am not bitter, just honest. I’m trying to imagine how the system could work better for both students and faculty.
    Do you think that faculty who complain that they don’t have enough time to do a good job of teaching are just whining, or do they just need to lower the bar for themselves?

  • More commonly, however, if you have good data, any trained monkey can give a good job talk or seminar-you are speaking to an audience that is on average much smarter, more motivated, and knowledgable than your typical sophomore Genetics class.

    Lemme guess: you've never given a TT faculty job talk, nor served on a search committee. Cause it sure looks easy when you're just a dumbfuck Walter Mitty sitting in the audience amirite?

  • Joe says:

    Do you think that faculty who complain that they don’t have enough time to do a good job of teaching are just whining, or do they just need to lower the bar for themselves?

    I think they are whining. Everyone I know who whines about teaching is also bad at it. Some people who don't whine are also bad at it. The good teachers I know all love teaching. They say it's hard work, sure, but they also get tremendous satisfaction from it. Just like the good researchers I know love their research. People good at both love both. It's tough to be good at something you hate.
    I have to agree with CPP... If you want to teach, take a teaching job. The high school teachers in my (obviously affluent) town all have M.S. degrees and get $85,000+/year. If you want a job at a research-intensive university, be prepared to maintain a research program as well as teach. If you don't like teaching, there are institute and med school jobs. Don't blame other people because you took the wrong job. And don't whine if you don't like your job -- find one more suitable.

  • becca says:

    "Whether or not being a successful researcher improves one's teaching to a degree that can be discerned by the typical undergrad is still an open question to me."
    I think the kind of exuberant love for a subject that leads to killer job talks is also perceived readily by the lowliest of undergrads. They may or may not learn as much as a more lackluster lecturer presenting a fantastically well-organized course that incorporates years of research on student learning, but when undergrads rate professor "skill" they are not unswayed by professor panache.
    @Joe- the researcher who has shaped many of my thoughts on this matter is Scott Hawley:
    http://media1.hmc.psu.edu/mediasite/Viewer/?peid=d332a189-dc83-47c5-b415-ca262d1c181a
    P.S. anyone who lives in a community where teachers make 85k/year and who thinks that in a time with 10% unemployment (up to 52%, depending on your age/race/gender), that anyone who doesn't like there job should just find a more suitable one, is SERIOUSLY undermining their credibility for anything pertaining in the slightest to REALITY. So you might be right on the topic of academia, but...
    😉

  • whimple says:

    The high school teachers in my (obviously affluent) town all have M.S. degrees and get $85,000+/year.
    Joe, that's awesome! I can't even imagine what your Institution must pay for teaching faculty with Ph.D.s!

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Becca, you remind me that Sturgeon's Revelation is a universal truth.

  • Joe says:

    whimple --
    My institution pays Ph.D. instructors, many of whom are fabulous teachers, between $30k and $50k per year. Part-timers get, if I remember correctly, get about $3000 per course from our department.
    But honestly -- teaching a college course with a total contact hour tally of maybe 3-4 hours per week is a hell of a lot easier than managing high school kids everyday from 8-3, not counting prep time. So I think the pay disparity is fine. What makes you think a Ph.D. makes someone more qualified to teach? Or even a better teacher?

  • whimple says:

    What makes you think a Ph.D. makes someone more qualified to teach?
    So... your institution hires non-PhD's to teach? Since they're not any more qualified or anything, I mean. Maybe that explains how you can pay them so little relative to the high school teachers. Lucky for your teachers it's so slack teaching college courses that they can multitask with second jobs to supplement their incomes up to high school teacher level.
    Joe, do you ever make any sense about anything?

  • Joe says:

    Oh, c'mon whimple. At least put some thought into your arguments. Or are you arguing just for the sake of arguing? My college in Major State University, like many, pays both Ph.D.s and non-Ph.Ds. to teach. The non-Ph.D. instructors are called 'teaching assistants', and get paid about $37k/year including benefits, for a 'half-time' job. The Ph.D. instructors that are on salary get paid $30,000-$50,000/year (which is probably $50-$75k/year including benefits). Tenure track science faculty get paid a 9-month salary of $70,000-$100,000+ (depending on rank, and not counting 'summer salary', which can boost pay a bit more), but are expected to maintain an active research program, train graduate students, perform more service, and generally boost the prestige of the university. It seems to me that increased pay is correlated with increased responsibility.
    The high school teachers in the school district where I live are admittedly paid well above the national norm, but I also live in one of the top-performing public school districts in the nation. The teachers here, as I said, typically have masters degrees and, like most K-12 teachers (but unlike typical college teachers) specialized training in teaching. They are well-trained and very good at what they do. Your suggestion that they should somehow be paid less than someone with a Ph.D., just because, is naive and insulting. Or perhaps you just think that Ph.D. instructors at college level should be paid more? Fine. But you'll have to figure out where the money should come from. Are you going to double tuition?

  • AJ says:

    *Anyone know why the Chronicle doesn't use "Dr." or "Professor" and opts for "Mr./Ms."?:
    It's because they think we're idiots.
    They use the AP style guide, which mostly makes sense, since they're a newspaper (of sorts). But the AP style guide includes a rule that everyone except physicians should be called Mr./Ms./Mrs X, lest we poor readers get confused and think that someone with, for instance, a PhD is a real doctor.
    Despite constant reader feedback that this is both A) rude and B) just plain incorrect, the Chronicle makes no allowance for the fact that its readers (most of whom probably have or are working toward PhDs of their own) are well aware that calling a professor Dr. X doesn't mean that s/he is an MD or a DO*.
    *Assuming they even know enough to call a DO Dr. X. You can't be sure with these people.

  • Hope says:

    It's tough to be good at something you hate.
    And yet, having to do something you love under unreasonable circumstances can make you hate it.
    Almost anywhere you look, the advice for TT faculty just starting out is: “Do the bare minimum for teaching – concentrate on your research, instead.” Is this bad advice? If the system truly valued teaching anywhere near as much as it does research (and research dollars), this advice wouldn’t make sense. How on earth does such a system encourage excellence in teaching?
    Sorry, but I’m not OK with pretending that it’s all just fine, that it really is a two- (or three-) legged stool, and that people are just whining. Why should students settle for a researcher “with a decent ability to teach,” when they could be taught by someone who is truly interested in teaching, and who also keeps current in their field, even if they are not the ones on the cutting edge with the huge lab that brings in bucketfuls of grant money?

  • darchole says:

    I don't understand how you could teach about science that is based on research without actually doing research - especially at the undergraduate and graduate level where basic science changes so fast that textbook production can't keep up. I'm not talking about going to graduate school just to teach, but at some point every science teacher/professor should have some research experience.
    However, at the university level, it shouldn't be a 3-legged stool, it really should be a continuum where it's accepted that some people are better at teaching and some are better at research (which is what the reality actually is anyways).
    Both sides are important, as you need the research to have something to teach, and you need those people to teach so you have more researchers (and teachers) in the future.

  • Joe says:

    Almost anywhere you look, the advice for TT faculty just starting out is: “Do the bare minimum for teaching – concentrate on your research, instead.” Is this bad advice?

    Nope; it's good advice.

    If the system truly valued teaching anywhere near as much as it does research (and research dollars), this advice wouldn’t make sense.

    It doesn't. The system values research more. For lots of reasons. The main ones being: 1) Research excellence earns more money; 2) Research excellence brings more prestige.

    How on earth does such a system encourage excellence in teaching

    It doesn't. That's why the best teaching isn't necessarily done in research-heavy departments, or by people who are primarily researchers (non-TT research faculty).

    Why should students settle [...]

    I dunno. Ask the students. I don't think all do. Or can afford to do otherwise. Or know better. Students who have never been exposed to great teaching often don't recognize bad teaching. Why would they? Many of them just think the subject is 'hard', and drop out. That's too bad.
    But whose fault is it? Blaming the institution is like blaming Walmart because the world is full of cheap crap that breaks. Why is that Walmart's fault? People seem to like buying cheap stuff. If people want expensive stuff, they can shop elsewhere. Education in the U.S. is a commodity.

  • whimple says:

    But whose fault is it? Blaming the institution is like blaming Walmart because the world is full of cheap crap that breaks. Why is that Walmart's fault?
    It's not Walmart's fault because Walmart doesn't pretend to sell quality merchandise that lasts. On the contrary, Institutions of "Higher Learning" explicitly market themselves as bastions of educational excellence, both for bringing in cash from student tuition and for the matching state dollars in some cases. There is also plenty of prestige to be had from a reputation of conferring a first-rate degree from a top-quality learning experience, generally vastly more prestige than research ever provides, not to mention all the cash raised from the donations of happy alumni. It would be nice if that were backed up by quality teaching, rather than teaching as a research-distracting afterthought. The alleged "three-legged stool" is just straight-up self-serving hypocrisy, fueled at an addictive rate by short-term extramural research dollar greed.

  • CT says:

    CPP: You would be wrong in your guess. I have (successfully) given a TT job talk, and heard a bunch of them. If you have a good story, I don't think putting a good talk together is that hard. Its certainly nerve-wracking because the stakes are so high, to be sure.
    My contention is merely that in terms of being a measure of good undergrad teaching, seminars are limited, because the audience is your best case scenario-smart and well-motivated. As the audience gets more divergent in their abilities and motivation, the teacher needs to have more skill, IMO. Getting that poly sci student who is in your class due only to an onerous graduation requirement to give a rats ass about the electron transport chain is where the tough sledding is.

  • qaz says:

    As anyone who has actually looked at education research (and there is some very good stuff out there) would know, lecturing is the absolute worst way to communicate information. The buzzword is "active learning" but it describes a very different environment than a TT job talk.
    To say that a TT job talk is comparable to good teaching shows a tremendous lack of understanding of how to do good teaching. (Note: I did not say there is no correlation between people who give good talks and people who teach well. My suspicion is that there is a very strong correlation between quality TT talks and quality teaching, but I don't have any data on that.) [Just remember Sturgeon's law (95% of everything is crap) applies to both.]
    The problem is that doing good teaching takes a tremendous amount of work. It's not just writing another lecture. It's actually designing a class so that at the end of the class, the students have actually learned something. I recommend that you go take a look at the education research field (physics education has been doing an excellent job recently actually quantitatively measuring how to do teach students so they actually learn something). One of the things they found is that traditional classes (lectures by TT faculty acting as if they were giving a scientific presentation from powerpoint and labs where everything just works) produce students who pass tests but have no understanding at all of the actual concepts the teachers were trying to teach.
    And for the record, the reason the world is full of cheap stuff that breaks is absolutely Walmart's fault. If you've looked at the economics of how Walmart comes in as a monopoly, destroys the small town infrastructure, and only pays enough to shop at Walmart, you would see that it is entirely Walmart's fault that the world is full of cheap stuff that breaks. But that's an economics issue and has absolutely nothing to do with the argument here, which is whether research supports teaching or teaching supports research.
    My take on the actual question at hand is that different schools and different departments actually take different tacks on this question. There are schools where teaching is more important than research. (Several famous small liberal arts colleges come to mind.) There are schools where teaching is a distant second to research, but there are opportunities for students to do bleeding-edge research as undergraduates. (Several famous and expensive research universities come to mind.) In my experience, this has been even more a field-by-field and department-by-department issue more than a school-by-school issue. In the research-intensive school I went to as an undergrad, the classes taught by the humanities departments were amazingly well-taught as active-learning discussion groups. On the other hand, the physics classes were taught by teachers who had little understanding of how to impart information. But, again, on the other hand, there were active bleeding-edge research opportunities in the science and engineering departments that most of the undergraduates I knew took advantage of.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    I don't understand how you could teach about science that is based on research without actually doing research - especially at the undergraduate and graduate level where basic science changes so fast that textbook production can't keep up.

    Perhaps not as fast as all that. My kids and I sat down and compared their undergraduate physics texts from the 2000s with mine from the 70s (physics majors all) and the differences were pretty minor, mostly having to do with a reduced emphasis on history.
    It was close enough that they used my texts sometimes because they explained the physics better. One of those texts was by some dude named Fermi which was old when I got it, and others (still in use) were by a fellow named Feynman who was famous for work he did before I was born.
    I don't think we can honestly say that there's no active research going on in physics -- but it's not changing what's taught at the undergraduate level.

  • One of the things they found is that traditional classes (lectures by TT faculty acting as if they were giving a scientific presentation from powerpoint and labs where everything just works) produce students who pass tests but have no understanding at all of the actual concepts the teachers were trying to teach.

    This sounds exactly correct. The highly effective way that we teach medical physiology is by combining lectures to the entire first-year class with weekly small group tutorials based on socratic dissection of model cases.

  • Anonymous says:

    This being the YouTube generation and all, it is now possible to bring your institution international prestige by merely teaching an excellent course and posing it online.
    At my MRU physics dept, we have a full prof who does ~0 research yet his public lectures pack in the largest auditoriums and his course for non-majors gets thousands of views per semester.
    I think it is widely acknowledged around here that our dept would be worse off without him.
    Another thing: qaz is as usual spot on--from what I've heard/read, the physics education community has really exposed a ton of common mistakes and I'd guess that most large physics departments would be well served to employ a few physics ed faculty if only to teach everybody else how to teach.

  • Joe says:

    You're right anonymous (and qaz), 'learning science' is gaining a lot of traction lately, and the application of learning science advances to teaching in the physical sciences is most advanced (probably because, as mentioned earlier in this thread, the stuff taught to undergrads hasn't changed much in decades). My college has an interdepartmental learning science group with faculty 'hosted' in various science departments. These learning scientists do research and teaching same as the rest of us, except their scientific model organisms are students (at various levels, from K-12 through undergraduate). The 'technology' they produce is used to improve teaching. Because of my teaching record and awards (including my University's highest teaching award), I have regularly been associated with the search/selection committees for these people. I am also reviewer for undergraduate textbooks and regularly pursued by publishers to write one of my own. So I'm not ignorant or untalented with regard to teaching.
    BUT I still disagree with people here who think a TT job talk or meeting talk or seminar talk are very different from undergraduate teaching. They're not. I have an active research program and get invited to speak all over the world. I use the same skills in the classroom as I do at meetings and seminar gigs. And I think about the different tasks the same way. And thinking about them the same way has made me better at all of them.
    The socratic method, is good for teaching ways of thinking. You can't tell someone how to think. You need to show them, and have them practice it. As CPP argues, it's a great technique for more advanced students. Good seminar speakers actually incorporate an abbreviated form of this technique into their seminars, by regularly raising questions posed by the data. We observed this, and wondered whether... Which led to the possibility that... But does this also...? But why would...? Doesn't this contradict...? Good seminar audience members are already actively engaged. Good seminar speakers merely anticipate these people's unspoken part of the 'dialog'.
    But for pure information transfer, socratic dialogs, whether one-sided or not, are not so good. Sometimes the stuff you need to get across is not 'a way of thinking', but rather just some information, in which case you just need an information barf. You can't sit around debating the fact that proteins that phosphorylate other proteins are called 'kinases', or that there is a lot of protein in the plasma membrane. Some things just are. You can talk about why kinases are called kinases and why there is a lot of protein in the membrane and not so much other things like nucleic acids, but then you are off task. It is important to remember your primary job when lecturing: Move stuff from your head into the heads of your audience. Many beginning instructors get so caught up in the mechanics of lecturing that they forget to actually transfer the information. My student evaluations regularly say that I'm interesting and entertaining, and I'm proud of that. But I'm equally proud (if not more so) of the fact that I get emails and cards from students in grad school and med school telling me how useful the things I taught are for them, and how much better prepared they are than fellow students.
    I am quite transparent about my teaching techniques and rationale for everything I do. In part I do this because there is good reason for everything I do, from the colors and fonts I choose on slides and exams (to improve readability in general, and for common types of color-blindness and dyslexia) to the difficulty of the exams and content of the course. And being transparent about it boosts my credibility. But also because I find teaching & lecturing fascinating. Every lecture is an experiment in applied neuroscience and psychology. And the more transparent I am, the better feedback I get.

  • I am quite transparent about my teaching techniques and rationale for everything I do. In part I do this because there is good reason for everything I do, from the colors and fonts I choose on slides and exams (to improve readability in general, and for common types of color-blindness and dyslexia) to the difficulty of the exams and content of the course. And being transparent about it boosts my credibility. But also because I find teaching & lecturing fascinating. Every lecture is an experiment in applied neuroscience and psychology. And the more transparent I am, the better feedback I get.

    I am the exact same way, except that I never look at teaching evaluations. In fact, I'm not sure if they are even generated.

  • becca says:

    " Every lecture is an experiment in applied neuroscience and psychology. And the more transparent I am, the better feedback I get.
    I am the exact same way, except that I never look at teaching evaluations. In fact, I'm not sure if they are even generated."

    Anyone else find the juxtaposition hilarious?
    Or do you all do your electrophysiology experiments by never looking at the current curves, or your Westerns never looking at the film?

  • Joe says:

    I assume, becca, that students tell CPP what they think straight to his face. I too find that the most useful student feedback comes not from written evaluations, but straight from the students' mouths. I like it when I am able to generate an atmosphere where students are not shy about telling me what is working and what is not. In fact, it's key to helping them. It's tough sometimes to generate such an atmosphere, especially for lectures containing 250 students. And I'm still not perfect at it. But I'm getting better.
    Most of the feedback and useful discussion comes from students who catch up and walk with me on the way to/from class. The key to getting good feedback is to always be genuinely appreciative, and then try hard and in obvious ways to incorporate that feedback.
    ...exactly the way one needs to treat paper and grant reviews, I might add.

  • Alex says:

    The real question is whether CPP has ever gotten a chili pepper on RateMyProfessors.

  • Joe says:

    I have!

  • Anyone else find the juxtaposition hilarious?

    What's hilarious is the childish ignorance of someone who thinks that the written teaching evaluations of magical wagical snowflakes has the slightest fucking value as feedback for fine-tuning one's pedagogical approaches.

  • Alex says:

    So, that's a "no" then on the chili pepper? 🙂
    Seriously, though, one might very well decide to ignore "Do you like this professor?" questionnaires and instead refine pedagogical approach in response to, say, homework and test performance, i.e. "I need to cover X better because they aren't getting it, but they're all getting Y so my approach to Y is fine."

  • Hope says:

    What’s even more hilarious are profs who think that students give them honest feedback about their courses face-to-face. Very few students have the guts to do this, and of those that do, most know better. Profs, when was the last time that you gave your superiors advice on how to do their jobs?

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Profs, when was the last time that you gave your superiors advice on how to do their jobs?

    And then consider that students don't have tenure. Maybe postdocs would be a more appropriate comparison.

  • Joe says:

    What’s even more hilarious are profs who think that students give them honest feedback about their courses face-to-face. Very few students have the guts to do this, and of those that do, most know better.
    Well, then they're being awfully damn polite in their anonymous written comments, because the suggestions I get directly from students in person are a hell of a lot tougher than the things I get in writing. Like I said, the trick is to create an atmosphere where comments are welcome. If I screw up, trust me, a vicious crowd mentality quickly takes hold and they show no mercy, or sometimes even tact. But it's OK. I asked for it.
    What's hilarious are students who think profs were never students themselves, don't hear some of the things students say about them (including easy stuff like reading sites like RateMyProfessors.com), or can't tell when a lecture sucks. In fact, I think it's pretty obvious when one is doing a decent job (or not) as a teacher. In every case I can think of, bad teaching results from laziness more than anything. The prof knows they suck, but just doesn't give a shit.

  • Anonymous says:

    I dunno, Joe, what do you think all those learning scientists would say about your fav method of feedback?
    My phd advisor always felt the same way--that face-to-face comments were always better than teaching evals. IMO, he was a pretty shitty teacher (though a fantastic research advisor) but I never had the heart to tell him that so directly because he was a really nice guy. Wonder if anybody else felt the same way...

  • qaz says:

    There is absolutely no evidence scientifically that either those stupid "how did the teacher do" surveys, that really stupid rate-my-professor site, or face-to-face comments by students are accurate measures of educational success. The former are highly skewed by student emotions (particularly related to how well they did in the class). The rate-my-professor site is not a random sample (like most web-based rating systems is highly skewed to angry respondents). And face-to-face comments are highly skewed to positive, excited, and friendly students (who tend to have spent their time in dialog with the teacher, which is [as was noted above] how to actually learn from a lecture).
    What the physics education community (the one I'm most familiar with) did is they created specialized tests and labs that actually examined the concepts they were interested in rather than the typical equation-based tests and found a dramatic change in scores. In particular, they learned a lot of lessons from the human-computer-interaction field on how to use multiple questions to validate the accuracy of the tests. There is a lot of work in the human-computer-interaction field looking at how to accurately determine how well people understand documents they read (for example a web site).

  • Joe says:

    So the consensus seems to be:
    1) Ignore what the students say in writing.
    2) Ignore what the students say in person.
    Sounds good. Got it. Fucking students. Who needs 'em anyway?

  • becca says:

    *smiles beatifically* I always prefer childish ignorance of inexperience to willful ignorance of ignoring data. But that's part of my dewy-eyed charm, innit?

  • No, it's just another form of ignorance. Not only don't you know what you are talking about, but you also don't know how little you know.
    What students *tell you*--either written, oral, or by fucking smoke signals--is a very poor source of feedback concerning pedagogical effectiveness. Those of us who have real experience with teaching know this very well.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I had a class which was not going well; so I was not enjoying teaching it. I fell into the habit of coming in maybe a minute or two late for lecture. In the written student evaluations, a majority of the class commented negatively about my tardiness. Shortly thereafter, I read, in an education journal, a study which found that the professor showing up five minutes early, and just hanging out, improved class performance and satisfaction. I started doing that and it worked as advertised.
    When teaching introductory or general education biology classes, I would spend about 10 minutes of the first lecture to introduce myself to the students with a slide show about my fascinating research. Trying to project the subliminal message, "Here is your chance to deal with an actual biologist. Enjoy!"

  • Joe says:

    What students *tell you*--either written, oral, or by fucking smoke signals--is a very poor source of feedback concerning pedagogical effectiveness. Those of us who have real experience with teaching know this very well.

    I am tempted, Comrade, to surmise that students might lie to you more than they do the rest of us, given your charmingly uninviting personality. And I'm not sure slouching in front of med students and babbling for a couple hours every semester is 'real experience with teaching', but for the sake of discussion let's assume you're correct in your assertion that nothing students say can be trusted. Given that...
    How do we know if we're teaching well, if we can't trust anything the students say?
    [Insert predictable CPP answer here]
    Fine, but how do you know they're not learning the stuff despite your bad teaching?

  • And I'm not sure slouching in front of med students and babbling for a couple hours every semester is 'real experience with teaching'[.]

    I spend 1.5 hours per week all year long teaching quantitative physiology to first-year medical students. And I never said, "nothing students say can be trusted".
    How about you tell us what sorts of valuable direct feedback you've gotten from your students about your pedagogical approaches? So far we've got from Thomerson "don't be late for fucking class". What else?
    Oh, and tell us for the fuckteenth time about how you won some teaching award. That'll give a lot more gravitas to your opinion.

  • DK says:

    Comrade PhysioProf: What students *tell you*--either written, oral, or by fucking smoke signals--is a very poor source of feedback concerning pedagogical effectiveness.
    For once I fully agree with CPP. Students are clueless. What they perceive is completely unrelated to how well they are taught. As a rule, they have absolutely no idea what's good for them (assuming, that is, that the goal of taking a class is to learn something).

  • Joe says:

    It ain't rocket science, Comrade. I ask students what they think. They tell me. I ask them whether there is something I can do better, and they tell me. I ask them for suggestions, and they offer them. Students sit in class for hours a day with dozens of instructors a year. They have constant exposure to pedagogical techniques, and obviously they have strong opinions. Why would you not assume they're experts, and ask their opinion?
    Thomerson's 'don't be late' rule falls under what I would generally call 'common courtesy and respect'. I have no idea why some professors think it's OK to be disrespectful toward a bunch of other adults who are paying that professor to help them. Basically, Thomerson didn't give a shit about his students or doing his job. Students picked up on it and complained. Thomerson paid attention and made corrections. That's good.
    So, rule #1: Treat students with the same respect you'd accord anyone else. And then treat them with a little more respect, because you're paid to.
    Once you follow that rule, a lot of other stuff falls into place. If the students see that you respect their knowledge and opinions, they're happy to offer them. They have expertise. Recognize that. I am continuously amazed by the thought that some students put into pedagogy -- class organization, multimedia techniques, etc. I teach in a big city school and regularly have students who already have M.D.s and experience from other countries but they need some credits or degree or some B.S. to get licensed here. They have great medical stories and insights. I have students who are incredible graphic artists. One student a couple years ago generated for me an incredible animation for an otherwise difficult-to-visualize concept. Students these days are totally connected. I often teach and encourage the use of certain internet resources in my undergrad classes (KEGG, OMIM, etc), and students are surfing this stuff all the time and coming up with loads of interesting points of discussion. I encourage them to continually fact-check me, and they do so. In the process, I get checked, and they inevitably learn more than whatever small snippet of info they set out to check.
    Rule #2 is also a no-brainer. When students complain, assume they do so justifiably. Maybe they don't know exactly why they're unhappy with you, but the fact that they're unhappy should tell you something. Figure out what the problem is, and fix it. This means you have to listen to the students, CPP. You can't blow them off. Blowing them off violates rules #1 AND #2. You don't ignore paper and grant reviews, do you? I bet you don't, and there are a lot of reasons to distrust those reviews a lot more than students' reviews of your teaching.
    Rule #3 is to remember to actually teach. You have skills and knowledge. That's why you're the teacher. Get your skills and knowledge into the students. Every trick you know for remembering stuff, teach it. Every secret source of info you know, point it out. Students can tell you their tricks, can share things they've discovered. My students do all the time, and I pass them on. Think hard on the stuff you teach, so you can clarify. Students like things to be simple. And rightly so. Think Richard Feynman. His brilliance was the fact that he could make complicated stuff simple. You can always tell brilliant people by the fact that they make hard things simple. Your job is never to look smarter than the students, it's to make them better than you.
    So there ya go, CPP. Everything you need to know to become a better teacher: 1) Stop being such an asshole. 2) Start listening. 3) Start being constructive.
    ...and just because you're handsome, I'll waive my usual consulting fee for that personalized advice.

  • Dude, all that obvious trivial shit is arguably necessary. And maybe if you're just regurgitating basic Some Shit 101 out of a textbook to freshmen and other naifs, it is sufficient. But it is laughably inadequate when it comes to teaching quantitative sciences to advanced undergrads/grad students/medical students.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    It was long ago and far away, and I don't recall the problem I had with that particular class. To say I didn't care about that class or doing my job at the time is likely correct. No satisfaction to be had when one feels that way. I wonder if all the folks who don't like teaching feel the same way all the time. For me that was an isolated incident and I have otherwise enjoyed teaching. If I had felt that way about many or all classes, I would have found another profession.
    Being a professor is the best job there is, yet many of my colleagues did not think so. I never understood that. Maybe it was a matter that I saw the university as a place where I did my work, while my unhappy colleagues saw the university as a place where they were forced to do the university's work.
    Anyone know a little book, "How to Grade Your Professors", written by a Professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University, as I recall?

  • joe says:

    But it is laughably inadequate when it comes to teaching quantitative sciences to advanced undergrads/grad students/medical students.

    Let me recap:
    1) You argue that better teaching results from ignoring students.
    2) I counter that students actually know quite a bit about what they're talking about, and should be listened to.
    3) You say that respecting the opinions of students may be fine for intro classes but there is still no reason to listen to more advanced students.
    [picture me with an amazed and puzzled face]
    Dude, what kind of planet are you from where the better the students are the more we should discount their opinions? You're not even making sense any more.
    I teach grad students and medical students a lot too. And everything I say goes even more so for them.

  • Dude, while you almost always are full of shit, you don't usually have this much trouble with reading comprehension. Where the fuck did I ever say that "better teaching results from ignoring students" or that "respecting the opinions of students may be fine for intro classes but there is still no reason to listen to more advanced students"?
    Get a fucking grip on yourself, man.

  • joe says:

    I'm paraphrasing, dude. It's that 'simplification & clarification' thing I mentioned.
    Your psychological defenses are getting trite.

  • Joe says:

    ...and in case the challenge isn't clear....
    What, oh Wise Teacher, do you have to suggest besides 'ignore what the students say'. Because that's about all I've heard out of you so far. And that's obviously stupid advice.

  • Anonymous says:

    "And maybe if you're just regurgitating basic Some Shit 101 out of a textbook to freshmen and other naifs, it is sufficient. But it is laughably inadequate when it comes to teaching quantitative sciences to advanced undergrads/grad students/medical students."
    interesting. the physics ed stuff i know about involves teaching the general 101 physics course (albeit the one for scientists). Apparently people as a whole do a very shitty job of it and i assume that most profs dont show up late and insult their students.
    Transforming the pedagogy for upper division and grad physics courses is less important for a number of reasons, but it is an interesting question whether it is more/less intuitive to teach...

  • becca says:

    "As a rule, they have absolutely no idea what's good for them (assuming, that is, that the goal of taking a class is to learn something)."
    If this is true for them coming *out* of your class, you are an astonishingly bad teacher. If nothing else, you ought to be equipping students to have some idea how to go about effectively learning about your particular subject after the class. All the information you can give them isn't as useful as that, and all the information you can give them can't *substitute* for that when specific facts become obsolete, required courses are out of the way, and they are left in the big wide world.
    CPP- I can't imagine how you'd be worse off listening to the students compared to NOT listening to them. Student input may be limited in insight, tangential, or biased, but it's still one type of data about how you are doing.
    I think a lot of it depends on how you frame the questions. Bubble forms with questions like "How well does the teacher know the material?" give student ratings a bad name. They tend to bug profs since they put the student in the position of evaluator, and more importantly, they don't provide much specific feedback or ways to improve. And I know that as a student I never fooled myself into thinking my opinion on this matter was at all informed or relevant. Even less so than the prof's assessment of my knowledge 😉
    However, it doesn't take complex or earth shakingly novel strategizing to think of intelligent ways to solicit and use student input.
    One of the grad courses I took had a very simple format- have a different prof for each class period assign a journal article they were interested in and a particular student presents the article, and everyone discusses it. How did the professors get assigned to this teaching duty? They didn't (at least not after the first time). They got invited based on student feedback. I know that the course coordinator both sought student feedback and that it was basically *the* key factor in shaping the faculty 'lineup' for future courses. This struck me as an eminently sensible way to use student feedback.
    Now granted, this good example may have occurred because of the educational style of this particular course coordinator. His undergrad was at Bard, in the sixties, and that was a very special situation (undergrads sat on tenure committees and so forth).
    Possibly the best damn course I took at the graduate level. But then, discussion courses succeed or fail based on how well the prof sets the tone for dialog and debate (which, I suspect, is how you've managed to do reasonably well in the absence of intelligent efforts to improve, CPP. You just have an innate sense of how to stimulate debate in a provocative enough fashion you can get some discussion out of virtually any class. I do wonder about the % of people you actually get to engage, but that's not what's needed to make a course work)

  • I'm paraphrasing, dude.

    Holmes, you're not paraphrasing; you're grossly misreading. Try to put aside your deep emotional need to prove me wrong, open your mind, and read what I wrote again.

  • Joe says:

    OK, Comrade. I looked back through all your posts in this thread, and I get 'socratic discussions', 'model cases', and 'ignore student feedback'.
    I agree that discussions and model cases/examples are great. I use them a lot myself. But I still fail to see how ignoring student feedback is a good thing, and I still can't find any explanation of how you identify and correct problems with your teaching.
    ...unless maybe you're already perfect. I am willing to accept this possibility given it's one of the fundamental traits of the character you play on this blog. But it would still be nice to hear your ideas for self-evaluation. Perhaps you could enlighten us with some of the techniques your less-than-perfect dumbfuck colleagues are forced to resort to, being the lesser beings they are.
    Besides student feedback, I use clickers (which I moderately despise because they're a crutch, but students like them) and continual assessment of my exams and student knowledge via the inclusion of outside questions (from GRE, MCAT, boards if applicable). This latter is highly dependent on the goals of the students who comprise the class, and isn't perfect, because students don't all have the same goals. But it gives me a rationale for setting the content and difficulty at some level, and a [very] rough yardstick by which to measure class performance. But hey, if I were satisfied, I wouldn't be trolling for ideas here, and especially not fishing in the gaping maw of black vulgarity that is Comrade PhysioProf. So humor me. Toss me a bone.

  • JaneDoh says:

    As an undergrad, I went to one of those very expensive research intensive places that also focuses on undergrad education. For the most part, my professors were good teachers (and some were great). I had a few clunkers, but that is probably true everywhere. My intro classes were all large lectures (really no way around that with the number of students at the university), but my upper level classes had 10-20 students and lots of professor attention. I also did independent research work as a junior and senior, as well as the summer between those years. That was an awesome experience.
    As a grad student at a large state research intensive highly ranked in my field, my professors were decent teachers (some were great) but I was taught almost exclusively via lecture and problem set. This was even though my University has one of the best physics education groups around (apparently there was no spillover into other science fields).
    I did pure research for a while at a National Lab, but I came back to academia specifically so that I could work with students. I enjoy teaching my classes, and I put a lot of work into them. My teaching evaluations started out decent (my first year) and have gone up with experience. I think teaching absolutely is a skill that can be learned/taught.
    In my experience, the best researchers were often the best teachers (and actually do the best service too). YMMV.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    There is the usual slur of teaching, "Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach." I have always thought this ought not to be the case at the professor level. University level teaching ought, ideally, to be the provenance of those who do. I thought this particularly important at the general education or introductory level. The students should understand that they are being exposed to an actual biologist, not just someone who is several pages ahead of them in the textbook. From the professor's point of view, teaching is a real learning experience. I think I have learned more from classes I have taught than from classes I have taken. I received my PhD in 1965. A great deal of what I have taught was not known (at least by me) in 1965.

  • Joe says:

    I think it depends on what you're teaching, Jim. If you want to learn how to think like an experimental biologist, then it helps to learn from someone who is actually good at thinking like an experimental biologist. If you only want to learn the basic vocabulary and concepts of a field, then I don't think you need a 'real' biologist. If one must make a choice, it might be better to make sure a teacher of low level knowledge has pedagogical expertise over biological expertise.
    Essentially, what I'm saying is: I'm OK with the idea that instructors in lower level classes and at community colleges are not 'real' practicing biologists or otherwise leaders in the field they teach. But I think instructors in upper level classes and especially graduate/postgraduate professional levels need to be. Even the best teacher can't teach something they don't understand themselves.

  • Hope says:

    The students should understand that they are being exposed to an actual biologist, not just someone who is several pages ahead of them in the textbook.
    Who here is arguing that university classes should be taught by TA’s?! If we all agree that it’s ideal to be taught by someone who is an amazing researcher *and* and an amazing teacher, why not have a system that selects for this? Instead, what we have is a system that selects for amazing researchers … and we just cross our fingers that they turn out to be good teachers, too. Or at least good enough (what do those undergrads know, right Joe?). And, of course, all along we pay lip service to how important teaching is. This happens in the most prestigious and expensive schools in the country. If people at these schools have to put up with the occasional clunker of a teacher, imagine what their counterparts at less selective schools have to endure.
    So I say either drop the crap about how important teaching is, or change the system to reflect that belief.
    And if, in the end, I have to settle for either: (a) amazing researcher but so-so teacher, or (b) amazing teacher but so-so researcher, give me (b) in the classroom anytime. Because (b) is far from “just someone who is several pages ahead of them in the textbook.”

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    "Even the best teacher can't teach something they don't understand themselves." I think this is particularly the case in lower level courses, where the student needs to learn and understand core ideas. In preparing people to teach at that level we need to be sure they really understand the area they are teaching. I think Harvard has been right in having Nobel Laureates teach their introductory biology course, but there aren't enough of them to go around! So we have to be OK with less educated, less experienced, less active people teaching lower level courses. It is an outcomes thing. Several students who did there MS, or undergraduate projects, with me are teaching at the community college level, and doing it well
    I participated in teaching a graduate level Environmental Assessment course for a number of years. Early on, the sharpest student in the class complained to me that we were teaching how things are done, not how things should be done. I confessed to him that we did not know how things should be done, and could only teach what we knew from our experience in doing things.

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