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05/13/91

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Juggling teaching, research precarious, panel says

STANFORD -- Finding the right balance between research and teaching is difficult for would-be professors, but it may be easier than finding time for a personal life, a panel of award- winning Stanford teachers said Tuesday, May 7.

Three young teachers -- a teaching assistant, a newly appointed assistant professor and an assistant professor who recently earned tenure -- spoke about how they strive to do it all: teach interesting and meaningful courses that draw enthusiastic responses from students, counsel and indicate they care about students, and do enough research to further their career goals.

What they give up was only alluded to: One admitted to sleeping five hours a night and depending on his traditional marriage to support his goals. Others put thoughts of marriage and family into future tense.

The panel, part of Teaching Week, was moderated by Michele Marincovich, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and assistant dean of undergraduate studies, who said that years in graduate school are spent in developing researchers but only a tiny fraction of time on training teachers.

Diana Cordova, who received a 1989-90 Centennial award as an outstanding teaching assistant in psychology, evoked the image of a juggler, with demands of research, coursework, dissertation and teaching all in the air at once. But "research should enrich your teaching and vice versa," she said.

Encouraging students to get involved in research projects with graduate students as mentors is one way, she said, adding that some of these student/research collaborations have led to publications in mainstream journals. "The benefits far outweigh the costs," she said.

Karen Sawislak, a newly appointed assistant professor in history, said the shift from student to professor forces a new way of ordering the day. "The tenure clock is ticking and I'm teaching a full set of courses," she said. Although she was advised not to worry about getting any of her own work done during the first year, she said, clearly she was expected to get going on her own research. The most common question fellow faculty asked her was not "How's your lecturing going?" but "How's your book coming along?"

"Courses take time to prepare," she said, "but it's a capital investment to get lecture courses in shape the first year."

John Bravman, assistant professor of materials science and engineering who recently earned tenure, said when he first began to teach it wasn't unusual for him to spend eight to 12 hours to prepare a 50-minute lecture. In addition he's spent countless hours in front of his computer creating graphs and building up a library of drawings.

But, Sawislak said, despite the fact that the initial investment is part of adjusting to teaching, "don't be naive. Be aware of the requirements of your department. Get clear information on tenure policies."

"Try not to be seduced by teaching," she added. "There's an immediate gratification from teaching."

Although pulled from both sides, Sawislak said teachers need to set aside the idea of balance. Instead, she said, young professors should ask themselves "how can I do best at the many sides of my work? Try to draw connections between your interests: Teach what you know; also teach what you want to know about; assign books you want to read."

All three had practical tips for new teachers:

  • Try to remove yourself physically. "By being present the demands find you," said Sawislak.
  • Set limits on what you're doing. Recognize when it is enough, she added.
  • Admit when you don't know the answer, said Bravman, but be prepared to deal with it at the next class meeting.
  • Cover less material well, rather than skim over more information, advised Bravman. He also numbers and dates his handouts so students can easily figure out any they've missed.
  • Choose to be a teaching assistant in a course that you might be teaching yourself when you move on, said Cordova. "This will serve as the basis for a future course," she said.

"Teaching is more desire and commitment than skill or talent," said Bravman. "The route to success is long, hard hours. . . . It's a busy life but I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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