Combining Teaching and Research

Back view of male prof lecturing to large class in lecture hall, many students


As an academic you may at times feel the attractions of teaching and research as opposing forces. Promotion processes, as well as your own desire to advance your field, usually require that you devote considerable time to research, publication, and presentation.  On the other hand, teaching is one of your primary obligations as a scholar. How can you strike the right balance?

How to Combine Teaching and Research

Caucasian and Black male scientists, white lab coats, in lab, look at data together

Before you reconcile yourself to the idea that excellence in teaching and research are mutually exclusive, consider the similarities between the two endeavors.

  • Presenting at conferences and fielding questions from the audience requires the same skills as lecturing.
  • Designing an outstanding course outline and syllabus uses many of the same skills as putting together a literature review or grant proposal.
  • Both teaching and research help you develop insight into your field, refine your communication skills, and draw on your ability to select and organize content in a meaningful way.

Because they require similar skills, you will find that improvement and advancement in one feeds back into improvement and advancement in the other.

Manage your time

New instructors’ first concern is often one of simple time management. The following suggestions may be helpful as you first establish the balance between teaching and research:

  • Consider doubling your teaching load during one quarter so that you have at least one quarter free for time intensive projects, such as major grant proposals.
  • Invite your colleagues to give guest lectures on their areas of expertise, and volunteer to do the same for them—it will give you a chance to practice speaking about your research to a nonexpert audience.
  • Build a teaching library of videos, class activities, and presentations that you can draw on when you become unexpectedly overwhelmed by other demands.
  • Your research program can also enrich your classes. Stephen Bostock of Glyndwr University, Wales, has identified four effective ways for instructors to bring the process as well as the products of research into the classroom:
  1. Use current research perspectives, paradigms, and debates in the classroom to show that knowledge is contested and growing, rather than accepted fact.
  2. Include recent research results as part of curriculum content.
  3. Introduce both generic and subject-specific research skills and scholarly activities into course assignments, including literature review, experiment design, peer review, book review, conference paper presentation, and grant application.
  4. Invite students into your research community in small ways by requiring them to join scholarly email lists or discussion boards, use online conference proceedings as resources for class assignments, or attend departmental talks.

Male and female observers look through large window at class in next room

Inspire students to work with you

You can view your classroom as a pool of potential research assistants and honor students (who often contribute greatly to a research program). Undergraduate RAs bring enthusiasm, time, and a fresh perspective to your work. There are some drawbacks, such as the training and start-up time, but the rewards are great. Many RAs who are inspired by a specific course will stay with a faculty member or graduate student for much of their time at Stanford.

Consider coordinating a course on current faculty research in your department, with faculty rotating as speakers. This may count toward your teaching requirements while helping to match interested students and faculty.

Be on the lookout for research directions

Finally, there is always the possibility that questions that come up in class will inspire new directions for your research. For example, Professor Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, potentially the most well-known research study in Stanford’s history, was inspired by an exercise in his psychology class. Other Stanford professors report similar classroom inspirations.

Psychology professor Ewart Thomas says this phenomenon is particularly likely to occur in those classes where “we are operating at the borders of what is known and what is not known.”