Balancing Research and Teaching: A Reflection
Elaine Arnull, Tara Opsal and Sarah Koon-Magnin
Most people working in higher education struggle with the need to balance research and scholarship with teaching and pedagogy. Research on this phenomenon focuses on the difficulties in achieving a balance and how stressful the tension in striving to be both a productive researcher and effective teacher can be (Sorcinelli 1988). Austin (2002) posits that these tensions have increased over time as academics are now asked to display a ‘wider array of talents’ than before; in part as they are now also expected to interact and work with business and policy communities, as well as students and other academics (Ylijoki 2005). Further, many academics in the USA and Europe find that teaching, the core of their day-to-day business, is under-valued or rewarded and believe that research is accorded higher status (Young 2006). However, a focus on teaching quality remains critical at this time of worldwide economic crisis, as parents and students seek value for money and routes into paid employment as the result of a University education, not simply academic stimulation and attainment (Houston et al 2006).
The argument within academia about teaching and research is that if we do both well, they should speak to one another, with academics able to enthuse students about research and why it matters to them. Gibbs (2006) argues that the relationship between scholarship and pedagogy is complex and that quality in one does not necessarily lead to quality in the other. Furthermore, at times the attempts to do both can be exhausting: I (Elaine) have, for example, spent a Monday attempting to catch up on student emails, arrange meetings and read and advise on drafted work, because I have spent the previous week abroad engaged in a European research project.
How can we therefore achieve this balance, engage students and ensure that we are not exhausted in the process? Sorcinelli (1988) found that new academic staff struggled to find strategies to help them achieve the balance and suggested more experienced colleagues could assist them with this. As we reflected on this, we thought it would be useful to provide DWCers with tips that may help us all balance these two role responsibilities.
Tips from DWC Members
“I am an Assistant Professor at a research university who loves to teach, but I have learned that I need to reach for the ‘low hanging fruit’ with my teaching in order to navigate the tenure path successfully. In other words, I do as little as possible to bring a good lesson plan to class. That might mean that a class that isn’t quite perfect can be good enough for now and can be refined later.”
“My tip is to always ask for a time frame when someone wants you to do something. A task you might assume is really important might not be (and vice versa). If you cannot do it within the time-frame be honest and say so. You’ll find that they will often offer you a little more wiggle room to complete the task.”
“The most important thing I have learned to do is to bring my research into the classroom. I build some of my classes around my research, past and current, which allows me to stay focused on the research. I have also found it to be important to publish with my students, particularly graduate students. I think it is very difficult for those of us who love to teach because that is often not valued at research-oriented universities. I also found that it was important before I had tenure to find ways to conserve my time in my teaching, sometimes through giving multiple choice tests instead of essay exams, etc."
“I schedule almost daily writing time of an hour and I limit the amount of time I am allowed to prepare my courses.”
“I balance teaching and research by trying to teach what I am researching. I am now writing a book and using my book chapter drafts as the text for the course. This is sure to keep me on schedule! I'm enlisting the students to help with the appendices. I also carve out my time for research by teaching block periods on 1-2 days a week. Enrollment is also important. I follow myself on ratemyprofessor.com. I have noticed that if one is a fair, good instructor, but not the easiest around, your class size will be more manageable.”
“The thing that’s worked best for me is to devote a specific day to an activity...Fridays to writing, for example. And you have to stick with it, and not give up your “day” so to speak. Or sometimes I’ll give myself mornings to write, afternoons for class prep, answering emails, etc.”
“To teach 4-5 classes a semester while doing research, writing, and publishing, I follow the practice of "sequential focus," whereby I shift from teaching activities to research and writing in blocks of time with exclusive focus on what I am doing at that time. When personal matters arise, I try to dispatch with them before returning to teaching and research activities. I also get up early, e.g., 5 AM or earlier, to add an extra hours to my day, and plan my days so that I am aware of what tasks are pending. I try to spread out these tasks so I do not exhaust myself and have time for reflection and recreation. In sum, I am very organized and very focused.”
"I don't believe you can truly find balance at a teaching-oriented university because teaching always has to be your priority. That being said, my most productive year for research was the year that I stopped reinventing my classes, only kept my office door open during my scheduled office hours and learned to say no to committee/service work. This approach was definitely a temporary fix, but it was a really productive year for my scholarship."
Also consider these existing tips from others’ work
Using our own and others research in our teaching is an effective way to illustrate theory. Examples can be used to demonstrate how empirical research has had an impact on theory development, policy or practice in the criminal and social policy arenas.
Using examples from our own research in research methods modules helps students to understand the research process. It demystifies the experience of framing and forming research questions, refining ideas, thinking through ethical complications and questions and negotiating ethics committees. Through posing real life research questions and using personal experience, we enable students to see that research is a ‘live’ activity which stretches the mind, is stimulating and exciting and can be approached in numerous ways. It is also congruent with our feminist ideals – placing the ‘personal’ at the centre, demystifying and seeking an open dialogue.
Working collectively and in a collegial collegiate way to ensure that the University sets appropriate boundaries, that senior staff support junior ones in numerous ways – including mentorship, that scholarship time is available and can be taken, and that teaching is rewarded and valued (Sorcinelli 1988).
Learning about yourself and reflecting on your own strengths and weaknesses – recognising how best you work – do you need to undertake research and teaching in different semesters or on different days, or each day? Sorcinelli (1988) reported that new staff told her ‘I have a system in mind but I never embark on it’. We suggest reflection can help you think through: do you need ‘blocked’ time or some time each day? Act on your reflections. Once you understand yourself you can more easily plan for your engagement in both arenas and in so doing negotiate with managers and colleagues.
Austin, A.E (2002) "Preparing the Next Generation of Faculty: Graduate School as Socialization to the Academic Career." The Journal of Higher Education 73:1: 2002
Gibbs, G. (1995) "The Relationship Between Quality in Research and Quality in Teaching." Quality in Higher Education 1:2:147-157
Houston, D. Meyer, L.H. & Paewai, S (2006) "Academic Staff Workloads and Job Satisfaction: Expectations and values in academe’" Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 28:1, 2006 17-30
Sorcinelli, M.D. (1998) "Satisfactions and Concerns of New University Teachers."
DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln To Improve the Academy Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education
Yliijoki, O-H. (2003) "Entangled in academic capitalism? A case-study on changing ideals and practices of university research." The Journal of Higher Education 45:3:307-335
Young, P. (2006) "Out of balance: lecturers’ perceptions of differential status and rewards in relation to teaching and research." The Journal of Higher Education 11:2:191-202