Balancing teaching and research a personal perspective
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Balancing teaching and research: A personal perspective. Jonathan Evans Centre for Thinking and Language Department of Psychology University of Plymouth. How to do research: The missing chapter. 2005 book giving advice on all aspects of being a professional academic researcher Except …

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Balancing teaching and research a personal perspective

Balancing teaching and research:A personal perspective

Jonathan Evans

Centre for Thinking and Language

Department of Psychology

University of Plymouth

How to do research the missing chapter

How to do research:The missing chapter

  • 2005 book giving advice on all aspects of being a professional academic researcher

  • Except …

  • Balancing teaching and research!

38 years of balancing teaching and research

38 years of balancing teaching and research

  • First lectureship 1971

  • With the exception of periods ofresearch leave, I was always doing myfull share of teaching

  • Over the years I taught:Perception, thinking, language, social psychology, history and philosophy of psychology, mathematical psychology, statistics and research methods of all kinds

  • Perhaps 2 years in 3, I prepared something new

Two theories of research and teaching

Two theories of research and teaching

Teacher’s theory

Researcher’s theory

Researchers are selfish, careerist and neglect students to pursue their research

Researchers are smart, expert in their topics and all round good at their jobs

Therefore, researchers make bad teachers

Therefore, researchers make good teachers

Research teaching careers and university politics

Research, teaching, careers and university politics

  • It is undoubtedly true that excellence in research and publication historically provides a bigger career advantage than teaching in terms of promotion and mobility

  • This trend has increased due to the RAE as research output directly determines funding

  • On the other hand, we are highly audited and students are now demanding consumers. Teaching provides the main income for most universities

  • Most academics will want to teach well and will be expected to do so: but not at the expense of substantial and high quality research output

Common skills and resources

Common skills and resources

Scholarship a common link

Scholarship – a common link

  • Scholarship is the continued study of your discipline- reading, criticising and understanding the academic literature

  • Good scholarship is required for both teaching and research at university level

  • It is necessary for but not sufficient for both

    • Research work also requires creativity in framing research questions, technical skills in research methods and the ability to write

    • Teaching requires the ability to communicate your knowledge effectively to students

Research motivates scholarship

Research motivates scholarship

  • My PhD supervisor, Peter Wason, used to tell his students ‘not to read the literature until after you have run the experiments’. His concern was with creativity

  • In reality, successful researchers need to be highly expert scholars in the fields in which they publish

  • Writing journal articles requires telling a story (see HTDR). You must demonstrate that your work advances knowledge in the field. Hence, your introduction must accurately and succinctly show what was known before you research was run, and your discussion must show how that knowledge has been updated

  • On the researcher’s theory, this expertise gets passed on to your students

Communication skills

Communication skills

  • In the final chapter of How to do Research I discuss academic writing at length but also how to present research talks and seminars

  • In terms of structure and story-telling giving talks and writing articles are similar.

  • If you can give good research talks and conference papers you are also likely to be a good teacher. Being a good, engaging speaker is not essential for success in research but it definitely helps

  • To be a successful researcher you absolutely do have to be able to write well. This will also reflect in preparation of support materials for students

  • So this is another area where development of good teaching skills helps research and vice versa

Research styles programmatic vs opportunistic

Research styles:Programmatic vs opportunistic


    • Some researchers have programmes that run for many years or whole careers. E.g. Alan Baddeley has studied working memory since 1974; Phil Johnson-Laird has focussed on mental model theory since 1983

    • Such researchers may have many projects, but they all relate to a coherent overall programme of work


    • Some academics get interested in lots of different things and spread their research around a number of topics with no overall programme

Lecture preparation

Lecture preparation

  • Preparing lectures from scratch on new topics is hard work. Allow at least a full working day for a one hour lecture

  • The object is to be relevant, accurate, well organized and to present the material in a comprehensible manner to students

  • This process inevitably involved study and scholarship, so you learn new things in the process

  • Will this process benefit your research work? The answer should be yes, but it depends on your research style

Teaching and research styles

Teaching and research styles

  • Opportunistic researchers benefit particularly from teaching

    • Reading articles on a range of topics can give you ideas as you see faults in the methods, ambiguous findings and unresolved issues

  • Programmatic researchers also benefit in the breadth of their knowledge but may be less inclined to pursue topics outside of their programmes

    • Such researchers should try to obtain teaching relevant to their programmes, but also be open to new perspectives and connections

Final year options

Final year options

  • In the final year of a psychology degree, students can usually choose to specialise by choosing options in relatively small groups

  • These are built around staff research interests and allow you to focus on topics that interest you most

  • One advantage is that you may be able to recruit potential PhD students on topics

  • Be careful that you do not bore andbaffle the students as you know toomuch about the topic!

Project supervision

Project supervision

  • The undergraduate teaching activity that has the closest links with research. Many departments follow the ‘research apprentice’ model

  • At worst, such projects are pilots for later research work; at best they can be published

  • However, in my long career I have only published a small fraction of the projects I have supervised

  • You have to be convinced that the work was conducted honestly and competently in all respects

  • However, the advent of short paper publication in recent years makes publication of student projects a lot more feasible

Phd supervision

PhD supervision

  • Supervising PhD students is a very rewarding and satisfying activity for a researcher, but also very hard work even with strong students

  • Supervision will advance your research programme and lead to publications, although much less efficiently than by managing a research grant

  • Research students need a great deal of training and support and have to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn from them

  • Students will normally be first author on papers arising and may take many drafts before they are ready to submit

Creating time for research

Creating time for research

Time management

Time management

  • It is not the hours you work that matteras much as how you work those hours

  • Successful teacher/researchers need to be very efficient in their use of time

  • Efficient multi-tasking is absolutely key to a successful academic career. A sympathetic timetable (and Head of School) will help

  • If you have a clear research day, prioritise this for writing which needs unbroken concentration. Fit research and supervision meetings etc around other commitments on busy days

Sabbatical leave

Sabbatical leave

  • Plymouth has for many years run a sabbatical scheme where you get six months free every 4-5 years for research

  • This is very precious resource if you can get it

  • It is also possible to apply for funded research leave from research councils, as I managed to do 2005-2008

  • I chose mostly to take advantage of the extended free time of sabbaticals for writing. The books I have published were written mostly or wholly during these periods of study leave

  • The exception is How to do Research which was written while I was Head of School and not on leave

Vacation working

Vacation working

  • There is no substitute for … hard work!

  • Staff are allowed 35 days paid leave peryear plus public holidays. Most years Ihave taken no more than 25

  • You need some rest, but vacation periods are a great opportunity for writing papers and grants and reflecting on new ideas. No teaching, admin or committees

  • If you have a strong research programme, working hard in vacation periods will be essential. If you are motivated, it will come naturally. Research should be fun or you are doing something wrong.

Project grants

Project grants

  • ESRC and other research councils (BBSRC, EPSRC, ERC etc) award grants for research projects that directly advance the research of a member of staff

  • Such grants employ researchers (including post-docs) but to do your research, normally published as first author

  • Obtaining such grants is key to a successful research and teaching career

  • All the time-consuming aspects of research are handed over to an assistant, while you retain control of the design, interpretation and write-up

  • So while you are teaching or sitting on committees, your research is still advancing.

Some personal examples

Some personal examples

Undergraduate projects 1

Undergraduate projects 1

  • As a PhD student, I discovered a phenomenon known as ‘matching bias’. I guessed that it could account for errors on the Wason selection task

  • In my first year as a lecturer I got the project run by final year student John Lynch, leading to a publication by Evans & Lynch (1973). This paper changed thinking about the abstract selection task forever. PsycINFO lists 65 citations, but this is a vast underestimate due to the age of the paper

  • John Lynch joined the BBC and was for many years executive producer of the Horizon series

Undergraduate projects 2

Undergraduate projects 2

  • The most recent undergraduate project I published was with Jodie Curtis-Holmes – Thinking & Reasoning, 2005

  • This paper showed a small but neat finding – belief bias in reasoning is increased when participants are forced to evaluate syllogistic arguments with a short time limit

  • This paper already has 14 citations in PsycINFO – well above that expected by the impact factor of the journal

Papers from phd supervision

Papers from PhD supervision

  • One of my best and most cited experimental papers (108 citations, PsycINFO) was from supervised work of a PhD student – Julie Barston.

  • Unusually, I wrote this paper up as first author as Julie did not feel able to do it. It was published in Memory & Cognition in 1983 (Evans, Barston and Pollard)

  • This paper is usually cited as the origin of the modern literature on belief biases in syllogistic reasoning

  • I have a number of other papers with PhD students, mostly as second author

Teaching masters students

Teaching masters’ students

  • Some years ago, I set up the MSc Psychological Research Methods at Plymouth

  • I designed the first version of the Experimental Research Methods course which has been altered very little since

  • I realised that the student knew the methods but not how to apply them in practice. I found I was teaching the skill and strategy involved from my own experience as a researcher

  • This eventually led me to write How to do Research

Teaching helps my research

Teaching helps my research

  • As a programmatic researcher, I have not often run research on topics that I just happened upon in teaching. However, the scholarship required for teaching has greatly enhanced my overall vision of cognitive psychology

  • In 2005 I was awarded an ESRC fellowship for theoretical research on dual process theory, with no university duties required

  • However, I volunteered to deliver a set of undergraduate lectures on evolutionary psychology, a topic I had never taught before

  • I needed to read this field for my ESRC project and I knew teaching it would force me to study and understand it thoroughly

Research helps my teaching

Research helps my teaching

  • My research work and associated scholarship has fed into my teaching many times over the years

  • The most recent case was in this academic year. After return from my extended research fellowship, I offered a final year option on the ‘Two minds hypothesis’ drawing not just upon cognitive psychology, but also social psychology, evolutionary psychology and consciousness studies.

  • I was not just ‘giving back’, though. I am also writing a trade book on this topic and wanted to see how easily I could get the ideas over!

Some conclusions

Some conclusions

The knowledge business

The knowledge business

  • Academics are in the knowledge business. Acquiring it (scholarship), creating it (research) and disseminating it (teaching and writing).

  • If you don’t value and love knowledge for its own sake then spend your life doing something else

  • I stumbled into academia by a series of accidents, but it was perfect for me

  • But I didn’t need to have been a psychologist. I might have been equally happy working in a number of other sciences

  • I could not have been an English Lit scholar though. I am scientist and want the knowledge I discover to be empirically verifiable

Can you teach well without being a researcher

Can you teach well without being a researcher?

  • Only at university level are teachers expected to create knowledge in their own subject

  • So clearly you can be a good teacher without being a researcher

  • However, at advanced undergraduate (UK) and graduate (US) level this is harder to achieve

  • At this level, students are taught cutting edge research work and expected to read the contemporary journals, at least in psychology

  • Being taught by genuine experts in research work is a great help to such students, just as the Researcher Theory claims

Can good researchers make bad teachers

Can good researchers make bad teachers?

  • Occasionally, yes. But not routinely or commonly, as the Teacher Theory would have it.

  • Very occasionally, I have encountered academics who

    • skimp and neglect teaching to create more time for their research

    • are indifferent to the needs and interests of students

  • These exceptions are rare. For a Head of School, the more usual problem is that your best researchers are also your best teachers and administrators

Finally academic life is a privilege enjoy it

FINALLY Academic life is a privilege – enjoy it!

  • As a PhD student, I asked a friend who was 10 years into the profession what it was like. ‘It is better than working,’ he replied.

  • Academics grumble a lot – claiming to be overworked and underpaid

  • But professors of geology and chemistry may turn down offers from industry that would triple their salaries

  • Not only do university staff have enormous personal freedom in how they spend their time, but also are paid and rewarded for pursing their own intellectual curiosity

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