I can’t believe this is my 100th blog!
Thanks to everyone at OT for putting up with me!
In today’s world of dwindling scientific funding across many parts of the globe, one issue that seems to be more frequently discussed is that of professional teachers at universities and colleges.
What do I mean? I mean the hiring of faculty at academic institutions whose job description is
relegated designated (this editorial change added in admission to an originally poor word choice that doesn’t reflect my thoughts that teaching is less important!) exclusively to the goal of education. In the US at least, this is not such a foreign concept. After all, there are many colleges (the distinction between “college” and “university” being that only the latter has the research that would allow graduate programs for masters and doctoral degrees) that have no real ongoing research; just some undergraduate research for the purpose of education.
Is this in itself a bad thing at these colleges? In my view, certainly not. This type of education provides a rounded out science education even for those students who will never walk into a lab–who are committed to arts and humanities. But, you might ask, what about those students who are potentially interested in science careers?
I don’t have a good answer to that. Data and statistics are lacking (or I don’t have access to them), and my own experiences are both anecdotal and varied. On the one hand, I have seen outstanding graduate students whose scientific training comes from such colleges, where the teachers are entirely education-based, but not research-oriented. I have also seen weak students. It seems to depend more on the student than the college. And guess what? That’s not exactly surprising.
My own experience at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (eons ago) was with teachers whose primary raison d’etre was research. Does that mean we received better instruction? I doubt it. Some of the teachers were often harried, busy, disinterested in teaching and doing it only because they were forced to teach. The curriculum was often disjointed. At the time, southern, northern and western blots were the newest technology (yes, I’m that old!), and EVERY instructor spent a class explaining these techniques without bothering to find out if they had been taught already. BORING! On the other hand, other teachers were brilliantly organized, and their ability to relate classroom material to some of their own research REALLY excited me. So for undergraduates, the more didactic teaching will probably be better coming from professional teachers (as opposed to researchers), yet the experience of learning from a good instructor who is also a researcher should not be undervalued.
What about graduate and medical students (early, non-clinical training)? The consensus in the US has been that Ph.D. researchers are the best qualified to teach these 2 groups of students. I think it’s still well accepted that graduate students need to be taught by active researchers. With medical students, things seem to be changing. True, for many years universities have often employed faculty-instructors to teach such complicated and demanding areas as anatomy. But many universities still have active researchers teaching basic physiology, immunology, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, etc. But this is starting to change. Not so much because universities are hiring faculty specifically for such teaching, but because increasing numbers of researchers are having difficulties keeping their research enterprises up and running. As a result, they end up making a switch with their primary contributions being shuffled from research to education. And while this in itself is not a bad thing, it does concern me that so many talented people–with so much research training–are being forced to reassess their careers.
As for me–I don’t mind teaching, but for now I am hoping to stay in the research business for a while. Unless one of my books becomes a best-seller. Then we’ll see. Perhaps I can use the royalties to fund my research instead of writing grant applications. Wouldn’t that be fun?!