David Wright is Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Deputy Head of the School of Pharmacy, University of East Anglia
A strange thing happened to me last week, for the first time in my life I said to myself ‘give up the teaching and get on with the research’. As someone who spends over half their time teaching this was an epiphany. It was such a novel thought I could not believe that it had crossed my mind. Recent news that we had managed to make it through the outline stage for a national granting body made me aware of the fact that I had to create a significant amount of additional text which is of high quality, persuasive and is essentially bullet proof in a short period of time. I realised that I wanted the grant to succeed and needed a lot more time than my diary said was available.
My problem is that I like teaching, the students seem to appreciate what I do and consequently I spend quite a lot of my time in the classroom. The feedback on many levels is instantaneous and is rewarding and unlike writing grants and papers the chance of success is high. It is too easy as a young academic to get drawn into the teaching element of the role and forego the greater contribution you can possibly make to society and the profession through good quality research. Good teaching experiences are great for the self-confidence and ultimately teaching can be addictive. I am beginning to see that this may actually be the dark side of academia. Teaching can provide an instant high for relatively little initial outlay.
I now realise why many good researchers tend to minimise their teaching load. You need time and space to do good research. You need time to network, to keep on top of what is going on in a world which is constantly evolving and importantly you need time to think and write. You cannot do this with even 8-12 hours of teaching contact time every week. Every hour of teaching requires preparation, increases the likelihood that students will want to see you and usually provides some related marking and feedback opportunities. Essentially, to deliver good research you need far less than 8 hours contact per week and a target of 4 to 5 hours is more reasonable.
I am not, however, saying that researchers should not teach, the link between research and teaching within university has to exist otherwise why not just call it big school and put the student into years 14 to 17. University is about cutting edge research inspiring the minds of the future, it is about changing perceptions and beliefs to improve society and this cannot be done without researchers who are good communicators. The link between research and teaching is central to the role of higher education and should not be broken by allowing researchers to research and expecting others to do the bulk of the teaching. There is however a balance and increasingly academics like myself, get this balance wrong.
So, what is the answer? For this grant I have no choice, a lot of late nights and hard working weekends. If we get it however I am going to have a long chat with myself about what is important and where I need to go next. If we don’t get it I am going to have a similar chat with a bit more chastisement for my lack of foresight and career planning. I just wish I had done this when I was 26 and not 46. I therefore think that my main message is, if you are a young pharmacy practice researcher who is being asked to do lots of teaching and finding yourself enjoying it, treat it like a drug and occasionally learn to just say ‘no’.
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