Five Reasons Why Academic Science Researchers Should Teach

I recently returned, albeit part-time, to work in academia and I was offered the chance to teach. Many academics in scientific research never teach, other than perhaps one-to-one “teaching” of a new doctoral student.  In the past, I have presented my work to other scientists and also given a few guest lectures to undergraduates; but this was the first occasion when the value and importance of teaching really hit me and I’ve tried to capture that below.  So, why do I think science researchers should teach?

Students ask great questions

Let me write that again, because it’s so important: students ask GREAT questions.  ”Why is this done in this way?”, “How could I apply this approach in a different situation?”, “How could I explain this problem to another student?”. Their questions provoke thought & discussion with both students and your colleagues.  And they also prompt you to question yourself – how well do you know your subject?  Einstein is alleged to have said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.  Teaching is a marvellous way to improve your understanding of your own subject.

Teaching is an excellent way to recruit future masters and doctoral students

If your teaching is good, you will generate a pool of people who will know who you are and what you do – these people and anyone they tell about you, are a source of potential recruits to your lab.

Publicising your research

There are many ways to spread the word about your work, the most obvious and rewarded is conventional publication – preferably in a top-flight journal, of course.  Less obvious, however, is the value of publicity by word-of-mouth; despite the stereotypes, your students don’t just talk about sports, reality TV and drinking games; they will also tell people about your research.

Students benefit from being taught by practising researchers

Oh, yes, perhaps this should be number 1?  There will be a subtle difference between the approach and content of teaching from an active researcher and the non-researcher.  A tinge more enthusiasm, the latest methods, the newest discoveries – these are more likely from an active researcher.  They may not be the very best communicators, but some of that deficiency is made up for by being closer to the cutting edge.

Teaching helps your department

University administrators love it when their academics teach, because (whisper this) – it helps with the bottom line.

So, my advice to all those scientists out there, when they are asked if they’d be willing to do some teaching, is: Go for it!

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One Comment

  1. Paul Denny
    Posted June 11, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought you would like to know that I did my most recent teaching on a marvellous course aimed primarily at postgraduates and staff at University College London, run by Ruth Lovering. The course conveys the basics of creating and using the Gene Ontology. For more details, see the website:

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