I’m on my 3rd/5 undergraduate years, so I’m just starting to think about grad admissions.

I’ve been planning on applying to MD/PhD programs. I enjoy/feel comfortable in hospitals and think I can make a contribution or two in medically-relevant bioinformatics/comp. genetics.

So, one of the big pulls for me into a grad program is teaching. I would probabaly enjoy being a high school teacher or a college lecturer but it seems like an insecure career path to me, and not doing any research would probabaly bum me out after a while.

And, in theory, MD/PhD programs support that—TAing, teaching classes, teaching workshops at conferences, simplifying complex ideas for patients, etc. MSTP guidelines even mention teaching interest as an important characteristic.

But, in practice, I feel weird about emphasizing my teaching interest. Most grad students I meet dislike being a TA, professors don’t like teaching, and often it seems like they feel like teaching gets in the way of their real work. And those are the people who will be reviewing my application. I’m kinda afraid that I’ll be seen as a not-serious-researcher for wanting to focus on teaching.

Should I de-emphasize my teaching interest? If not, do you have any suggestions about how to present it on personal statements/interviews/etc?

  • If you want to teach, I would suggest doing a postgraduate teaching course (for instance, in the UK we have the PGCE). A PhD is about learning how to do research-- TAing is just a way of making money to support yourself whilst doing so. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 23:34
  • Thank you for the comment! If I want to teach graduate and medical students and do research, wouldn't a doctoral degree be most appropriate? Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 23:55

2 Answers 2


The primary quality that is typically sought after in PhD programs is the ability to become an independent researcher. Teaching is, for good or ill, secondary to that, and is in general something that is only a "second-order" effect on the selection of a person as a potential PhD candidate.

MD/PhD programs are a separate issue—perhaps they prefer future teachers as an additional quality but, if so, it's unique to them.


It's sort of a catch-22 situation here. On one hand, you do need a PhD to teach at the higher education level; on the other hand, the PhD doesn't teach (and doesn't even intend to teach) you how to teach!

But I guess wanting to teach (at university level) is a valid reason to get a PhD, as I've had friends and instructors who took PhDs because they want to teach college. Of course you'll still need to like doing research (and you'll probably still be held to the same admissions standards as those who just want to do research), but wanting to teach at the college+ level seems like a valid reason to take a PhD.

I'm not a faculty member, though, so you may want to talk to some teaching faculty with PhDs at your university to see what they think.

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