I remember applying for NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship many years ago and being asked to answer a question describing my experiences “integrating research and education”. At the time, I was baffled by the question, as I hadn’t yet done much teaching. I thought: Aren’t teaching and research orthogonal? I’m told by current students that the question no longer exists in the fellowship application, which I think is unfortunate. That question has stayed with me throughout my career: I regularly re-ask myself questions about integrating research and education.
At least in the United States (and presumably elsewhere, too), university researchers are regularly asked to tie our research back to education: for example, faculty members are regularly asked to describe the “broader impact” of their research, which includes how the results of the research will be incorporated into the curriculum. I’ve learned that this is no accident; to the contrary, I think it is one of the most important (and under-appreciated) things that researchers should be thinking about.
Although researchers are sometimes asked to think about how research can be integrated in the classroom, I’ve also found that efforts in the classroom can also ultimately result in better research. In fact, although many educators are not necessarily researchers, the converse is undeniable: It is no accident that some of the best researchers are also excellent teachers. And, while some strong researchers who are not good teachers do exist, I believe that purposeful teaching effort does in fact result in much better research.
In this post, I’ll describe my views on the relationships between research and teaching, in both directions. I’ll begin with the more “obvious” notions of how our research ultimately affects education and the curriculum and continue to what I think is the less apparent (and more interesting) direction of how our work on education can also make us better researchers. Of course, teaching also helps us develop many “general purpose” skills that are also useful in research, including mentoring and supervisory skills, learning to analyze others’ understanding, learning to give feedback, and so forth. Below, I’ll eschew these practicalities and instead focus on how the relationship between research and education ultimately result in better research ideas.