Category Archives: Teaching

Topics focused on the pedagogic process

Advice to junior academics, “Protect your CV!”

Board Teaching School University Research [CC0 Public Domain;]

Some years ago I was asked to give a staff seminar on “Developing an Academic Career.” The request came at the same time that a number of my colleagues were under significant pressure to undertake more teaching. I suggested in the seminar that the best way to advance an academic career was to allocate a minimum (but sufficient) effort to the teaching, and allocate the greatest effort towards research. The advice was stated in terms of protect one’s CV; i.e., allocate effort to those activities that are truly rewarded within the academic world.

Since giving that seminar, I have been approached by numerous colleagues thanking me for the frank and contrary advice. I know a number of them have since been promoted and attribute that success, in some small part, to pushing back against demands for more teaching, and focusing effort on developing research.

A standard, junior academic appointment is based on a mix of research, teaching and administration. The mix is usually something like 40% Research, 40% Teaching, and 20% Administration. In a rational world this would mean allocating an appropriate amount of time to each kind of task. And in this rational world, promotion and recognition would follow accordingly.

Before I go any further, I’d like you to complete a small exercise. Name half a dozen academics who are world renowned for their teaching. You know the kind of person I mean. She is an academically sound teacher at the top of her game, who can develop curricula, and hold small groups or crowded lecture theatres in the palm of her hand. She is as comfortable in a flipped classroom as she is in a tutorial or a problem-based learning session. This person is not simply a world-class educationalist, her peers, globally, recognise her as such.

Maybe you can name one or even two of these teachers. I can’t name any. Zero. And I suspect that is true for most academics. We all know great teachers. In every university department there is one or two of them who really connect with their students. But they are unknown outside a relatively small circle of staff and students. Here in lies the problem.

World class universities do not set out to hire world class teachers, because there is no such thing. They want to hire adequate teachers, who are world class researchers.  We know who the world class researchers are because there are well recognised (though admittedly flawed) metrics for evaluating this. If you want to develop a strong academic career, weight your effort towards the research and the accepted metrics of success.

I have watched worthy colleagues become suckers to an indifferent departmental system that needs someone (pretty much anyone) in a classroom. They are beseeched, cajoled and bullied to do more teaching than they should because, so the argument goes, it helps out the department. It shows what a great team player they are and will undoubtedly be recognised and rewarded at some future time in some unspecified way. DO NOT BELIEVE IT!

You should absolutely be a team player, and do your fair share of teaching. You should also appreciate that teaching can be intrinsically rewarding and is an important part of academic life. But universities are flawed organisations that do not have good mechanisms for rewarding and promoting on the basis of teaching performance. Doing more teaching is not rewarded, and your nobility in teaching more to allow others to pursue a full academic career is likely to be a source of later regret.