Teaching vs. Research

July 13, 2010

It’s common for many at research universities to say that just because they value scholarly production doesn’t mean they don’t care about teaching. But a new study of political science departments at doctoral institutions -- published in the journal PS -- suggests that there may be a tradeoff.

The study examined 122 departments at universities that grant doctorates in political science to see which institutions offer a course for doctoral students on how to become good teachers. It turns out that only a minority of departments (41) do so -- even though the American Political Science Association and others have urged graduate programs to recognize that the odds favor their students finding jobs at institutions that place at least as much value on teaching as on research. Of the 41 programs with courses, 28 are required and the rest are optional.

The analysis then tried to determine which programs were most likely to offer these courses. The size of the department and the size of the universities -- both of which could be thought to measure the resources available for courses -- were found not to be factors.

But there was an inverse relationship between research productivity in departments and the odds of offering such a course. The relationship, while significant, had notable exceptions in the survey among public but not among private institutions. Some of the public institutions with strong research records -- such as Ohio State University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison -- do have such courses. But as a general rule, highly ranked private university departments do not.

Over all, public institutions were seven times more likely than private institutions to offer such courses, the study found, citing as a possible explanation “the public service component of state institutions or the fact that public institutions are consistently faced with state-mandated programs to enhance teaching generally.”

The study notes that there are innovations that go beyond just having a single course on teaching techniques. For example, Baylor University, in its relatively young doctoral program in political science, has placed an emphasis on the idea that it is training future college teachers with a “teaching apprentice” program. In this program, grad students are assigned to work with senior professors teaching an undergraduate course -- not by becoming teaching assistants, but by analyzing the course. The grad students prepare an annotated syllabus -- different from the syllabus used -- to explore various teaching issues.

During the fourth year of the program, the grad students are “instructors of record” for a course, but then in their fifth year they shift to a focus on finishing dissertations. The study suggests that this approach provides in-depth exposure to teaching issues.

The paper on these issues was written by a professor (John Ishiyama) and two doctoral students (Tom Miles and Christine Balarezo) at the University of North Texas.

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