Are good researchers also good teachers?

Maarten van de Ven

In March 2017, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis published a paper on the relationship between research quality of teachers and their teaching quality. They start from the notion that the link between research quality and teaching quality is complex and multidimensional. Based on the previous literature, the authors distinguish two main mechanisms that can underlie this relationship. Depending on which of the mechanisms dominates, this relationship can vary from positive to null, and even to a negative one.

The first type of mechanisms suggests a positive relationship between research and teaching via complementarity between skills. Conducting research can both enhance teacher’s proficiency in the subject and keep the teacher up-to-date with regards to the newest developments in the discipline. As a result, research activities would have a positive impact on teaching quality. Such skills transfer can operate not only at the level of teacher but also at the teacher-student level. For example, through involvement in teaching activities and interactions with students during classroom discussions, researchers can transfer their critical thinking and research skills to students.

The second set of mechanisms suggests a negative relationship between research and teaching. Both research and teaching activities require investment of time and effort. Being involved in one activity, for instance, the process of conducting research, usually does not allow for simultaneously spending time and effort on another activity (the process of teaching). An exception might be a situation in which one activity benefits both research and teaching (e.g. reading a scientific paper can simultaneously contribute to research ideas and to teaching preparation).

Time and effort allocated to teaching and research are influenced by the system of incentives in academia. Research can be rewarded by universities through promotion more generously than teaching. Therefore, there can be a selective inflow into the profession, or people in academia might be more likely to build career in academia by doing research, while teaching is often regarded as “punishment”.  Furthermore, contrary to the first mechanism teaching and research might require different set of skills. If research requires more specific skills (e.g. synthesis, deduction) than teaching (e.g. communication, mentoring), this can lead to disparities between skill transfers. Hence, the relationship between research output and teaching effectiveness might be neutral or even negative. This paper investigates which one of these mechanisms dominates the others.

More information
Palali, A., van Elk, R., Bolhaar, J. & Rud, I (2017). Are good researchers also…