Teaching is more important than research – discuss…

21 Nov

I was educated in one medical school. I have since worked in that medical school and currently work in a different medical school.

This is something that I have observed: the rhetoric of the university is directed almost exclusively towards research.

I am a teacher not a researcher. I’m doing a bit of research at the minute cause it’s fun and it’s probably worth doing if you’re gonna take 2 years out of clinical medicine.

But my day job is teaching. I have a real passion for teaching. I think teaching of the next generation of health professionals is really, really important.

Part of the reason I say this is that my own experiece of being taught was often profoundly dissappointing, especially in retrospect. In my youthful naivety I didn’t notice. I have a good friend of my age who took the extremely ballsy decision to quit one job and pursue medicine. Watching him progress I realise how often he has been failed by his “teachers”.

Teaching is hard to measure. The students we (only in part, as part of a much bigger system) produce are our publications. We’re not what you would call “peer reviewed”. I can’t put be first author on any of these publications.

I have mentioned this before but I see teaching in medicine as profoundly relational and personality dependant. The way we deal with our students. The way we deal with our patients has a significant effect.

Now here comes my assertion. And it is very much an assertion, I have no proof for this, and it is of course a grossly generalised statement.

  •  the people who make the best researchers are often not the best teachers. On occasion they’re dreadful. Despite this fact they continue to get mixed research/teaching jobs.

If the rhetoric of the university continues to value itself and define itself by the quality of its research then it denigrates what I consider to be its most valuable resource.

Just to clarify, I did just say that teaching is more important than research. Wouldn’t want you to think I was skirting around it…

The other thing I should clarify, I work in a department that gives primary focus to teaching, despite the fact that the rhetoric of the same university seems to be directed primairily toward research.

For some other thoughts of a similar vein check out this.

11 Replies to “Teaching is more important than research – discuss…

  1. I agree. As universities pursue funding and become much more income focused they require staff to be heavily involved in research.
    Now this is a good thing if you are being taught by people on the top of their game and up to date with the latest in their field.
    I agree with your observation that the best researchers don’t always tend to be good teachers. If students are not taught well they don’t learn well meaning they don’t perform well in exams and as this doesn’t look good in result tables the standard is lowered and the teaching dumbed down even more when all the students need are lecturers who can teach and stimulate their minds. I know a few friends doing PhDs who complained about this dumbing down in the departments they were teaching in.
    I still remember a physiology lecturer who couldn’t teach to save his life. 2nd year medical students used to throw paper planes in his lectures and were very clear in his evaluation forms that he couldn’t teach. He is still teaching. why?
    Teaching is a gift that not many people have. It is also a skill that must be honed and developed.
    I think lots f good researchers could be good teachers, if more time and effort was put into developing their skills. But when the university is pressuring you to produce research then that goes out the window.
    Maybe part of the problem is that our education system is too focused on outcomes and tables rather than stimulating young minds?

    • Thanks for the comments sam

      I’m pretty sure I know which physiology lecturer you’re talking about…

      Certainly there’s plenty of scope for learning teaching skills but an underlying desire to teach is fundamental.

  2. Research oriented teachers are a big reason why I dropped out of college originally. Why on earth would I spend USD 20k+ per year to “learn” what I could learn on my own while making money at a real job! Especially when our teachers could barely teach.

    When I went back to school after working for myself for 3 years, I went to a school where teachers actually spent time teaching. The 18 months I was there was far more satisfying intellectually.

    Now this was a bachelors in computer science I was pursuing–it’s a bit harder to drop out of Med School and work as a Doctor on your own–but I think you hit the nail on the head.

  3. In the end, research becomes merely a tool used by teachers to share it’s fruits.
    It is a symbiosis, but the endpoint is sharing knowledge not keeping it to yourself. So, I agree, teaching trumps research, despite being dependent on it!

    • Good point domhnall. Here”s another (controversial) contention: it’s not just that teaching is more important than research but that I suspect that research is less important than it used to be. The law of diminishing returns and all that. We could improve outcomes not by new research but by properly applying what we already have good data for.

  4. Some latin for your arguement! http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/doceo#Latin

    Apparently there are mythical creatures that exist called, “The new found medical educationalists,” who are found ruining around some Universities without clinical experience. They also have a poorly evidence based fixation with e-learning and all things self directed! One was apparently spotted in a school ecosystem as the second biggest predator waiting for some unsuspected minds to disillusion.

  5. I’m a middle school student from Korea. I was doing some research to do my homework on this topic. Thanks a lot. I think I will get a better start off reading your writing=)

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