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I have been told that there is a correlation between being a good teacher and being a good researcher (like this paper, in page 15, point 3.6), but i have not found any references or studies about it.

Does any know if there is really such correlation, or have studies to confirm or deny it?

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    I would love to see a correlation analysis done between scores on www.ratemyprofessor.com and the professor's h-index. If anyone can figure out whether there's a public API for ratemyprofessor, please post it here!
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:37
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    You have a spectrum from John Nash to Richard Feynman. Take your pic.
    – user107
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 19:19
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    Ugh. Ratemyprofessor? Really??
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 17:18
  • There have been some empirical studies of this. I don't have a reference, sadly, but from memory they all found almost zero correllation. In other words, neither one in any way predicts the other.
    – Jez
    Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 10:23
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    Note that this question asks for evidence of a correlation, not a guess or an explanation as to why it should be one way or another (which is subjective). Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 18:22

10 Answers 10

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I don't think there can be any studies to confirm or deny something like that, simply because neither "good teacher" nor "good researcher" can be quantified objectively without bias, and in the absence of that, how can you compare?

But qualitatively, I think the conclusion naturally follows in most cases - both require one to be enthusiastic about their subject in the first place, and require a certain depth of comprehension before they can either publish their results or interact with inquisitive students successfully!

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    Just because it is difficult to measure teaching and research performance does not make it impossible. Furthermore, a good but imperfect measure of performance would still enable a meaningful empirical correlation to be obtained. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 2:57
  • I'm not sure I understand you - how can an imperfect measure be good at the same time, and how does it ensure it filters out false positives?
    – TCSGrad
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 9:20
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    Assume that there is a true unmeasured latent variable called performance and say that you have an observed measure that correlates r=.80 with that true latent variable; you would have a very useful measure of performance for assessing relationships with other variables. It might not be perfect, but it would be useful in assessing correlations with other variables. I think the same general issue of useful but imperfect measurement applies to a lot of behavioural and social science measurement. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 11:08
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It seems likely that there's some nonzero correlation. Certainly, there are factors that should lead to positive correlation; for example, some personality traits (like conscientiousness) should lead to both better research and better teaching. There are also factors that should lead to negative correlation; for example, teaching and research are activities that are competing for a limited amount of time. It would be strange if all these factors nearly cancelled each other out, so we should expect some net correlation. Here's an argument for positive:

Let's distinguish between two aspects of teaching, namely exposition and psychology. Exposition means finding simple explanations, coming up with illuminating examples and analogies, mapping out the most important topics and the relationships between them, etc. Psychology means understanding where students are coming from and what they do or don't understand, empathizing and bonding with them, arousing their interest and inspiring them to achieve great things, etc. Both of these are important factors in good teaching, although neither is absolutely essential. A master of exposition without a good understanding of psychology may be clear but dull, and someone who understands psychology but isn't good at exposition may have to follow a textbook closely, but either one will be much better than some teachers.

Expository ability is almost certainly correlated with research ability, since they both rely on a deep, creative understanding of the subject matter. In mathematics, the standard example is Jean-Pierre Serre, who is both a brilliant mathematician and the author of several amazing graduate textbooks, and one can see similar characteristics in his research papers and textbooks.

However, the psychology side of teaching is probably not closely connected with research ability. There may be some correlation, just because smart people tend to be better than average at all kinds of thinking, but I'd bet the correlation is small. Certainly, there are wonderful researchers who have a terrible understanding of psychology, and vice versa, in a far more dramatic way than for exposition.

I see this split as perhaps explaining why there's so much debate about whether good research and good teaching are correlated, with some people saying obviously yes and others obviously no. The answer depends on which aspects of teaching you view as most important.

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    +1 for distinguishing the expository and psychological roles (or the 'teaching' and 'mentoring' roles)
    – Suresh
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 0:25
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Only reference I know of:

Feldon et al (2011) Graduate student's teaching experiences improve their research skills. Science, 333, 1037-1040. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6045/1037.full

The authors found a that students who taught improved their abilities to generate testable hypotheses.

So yes, I assume that this means that there is a correlation between being a good researcher and being a good teacher beyond the simple point of being able to communicate your findings more effectively.

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    Causation ≠ correlation :)
    – F'x
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 19:22
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    @F'x maybe I'm missing some point of the answer, but... which part exactly is the comment about? And BTW, while causation and correlation are not equivalent, they are correlated :D
    – penelope
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 14:19
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It's hard to evaluate, but from my experience I don't think such correlation exist, or if it exists, it is not extremely evident. Age can certainly be a discriminant, but assumed equivalence in age, a good teacher spends a lot of time in teaching activities, such as preparation, testing, and student nurturing. This leaves very little time for research. Also, most brilliant minds are too involved in their own projects (at the limit of being asocial) and don't make good communicators. The great advantage of a teacher is that he must be "not that smart", that is, he must understand where a difficulty may lie, and come up with a brilliant example to make it clear. Not everyone is Feynman..

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I would to add a review point to the discussion that could imply a negative correlation. Teaching students takes empathy, understanding that they do not yet understand and what makes them not understand. A top researcher has probably not experienced this when he/she was in school. Lesser researchers might be better at understanding why a student doesn't get it. Also, a good mind does not imply excellent communicative skills. I would say the correlation is non-existing or slightly positive.

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  • Any reason for the downvote? Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 18:32
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    A top researcher has probably not experienced this when he/she was in school. — Perhaps. On the other hand, researchers have to explain their work to non-experts (like promotions committees and grant panels) too. So if they don't learn that empathy as students, they'd better learn it later.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 3:55
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    I'd say "understanding that they do not yet understand and what makes them not understand" is a major driving force for good research.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 18:16
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    I think it's worth noting that there are lots of 'types' of students. A great researcher/professor teaching an advanced courses at MIT probably relates very well to his/her students. That same person might be far less effective teaching a remedial class to students who scored too low on their placement exam at poorly rated state school somewhere.
    – Rob P.
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 11:56
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Correlation is not causation. Beware of studies that confuse the two.

For those with non-statistical background, it is like "eating ice cream and "driving a car". There may be a positive or negative (or no) relationship between eating ice cream and causing an accident but ice-cream in itself does not cause the accident.

Similarly, it is not necessary to be a good researcher because one is a good teacher and vice-versa - a notion that is sort of reflected in the many answers.

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  • Unfortunately, many studies use correlation to imply causation.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 6:47
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This is significantly after the fact, but this paper just came out. It purports to show that students learn the most/best from instructors who are NOT tenure-track professors, potentially due to the added burden performing research has on an instructor.

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I don't have any formal evidence, but I can tell you that at my university there are people who are only doing teaching (and are good at it). If being a good teacher implied being a good researcher, these people would be at least involved in research as well.

Similarly, there are many people who are good teachers at high school level and not involved in research in any way.

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There are any number of reasons that teaching and research might be correlated, or be anti correlated. These reasons will all combine and interact, so you will see a range of extents of correlations. Here are a few:

  • They can be positively correlated because communication is a part of research, so giving good lectures and scientific talks, writing good papers and lessons will be correlated.

  • They must be negatively correlated as a consequence of both taking time from the same individual academic. No one has infinite time.

  • They can be positive correlated because excellent departments and universities value their academics' time and provide resources like secretaries and teaching assistants to help academics have time for both.

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    OK, why are people DOWN voting this? No one should down vote anything without comment, and I've never had any answer be downvoted four times before. Is this someone corrupting stack exchange? Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 15:18
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    I have seen many professors (in mathematics) who are excellent researchers and at the same time very weak teachers. They usually don't pay attention or don't care about teaching. In mathematics, I think the reputation of a scholar comes mostly from his research and therefore it affects negatively other aspects of their work. For example some of the good researchers don't even care about their PhD students. But these are just my observations and it may be different in general.
    – user4511
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 6:07
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    By the way, I did not down vote your answer Joanna:-))
    – user4511
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 6:12
  • I just listed a few reasons why they might and might not be linked. The fact that some times they are linked or sometimes are not linked doesn't prove that these factors have no impact. I'll try clarifying this, thanks Vahid! Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 22:17
  • Ha, this is still getting down voted with no explanation. Dudes, this is just logic! What is the axe you are grinding? Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 23:19
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There's a negative correlation. It's been well found in my experience. If you're a good researcher, you'd not be your students favorite. It's like thinking a professional in say big data would teach a subject of big data properly. It sounds like it might, but it won't. A professional would always be in a hurry to go to office, keep thinking about his job, he's doing teaching just as a means to make money in a greedy sense. Same goes for researchers, they're there teaching just so that they can get funds to research, they don't want to teach kids about concepts that can be learnt by reading 10 pages of a textbook. They're there for bigger and better things.

So my answer isn't necessarily if a good teacher and good researcher has any correlation. My answer is that anyone who is doing multiple professions just to make more cash (or benefits) isn't going to do it very well. And professors in university have very good power. We had professors who failed 90% of his students, used to come half a hour late to class and left half a hour earlier, we learnt that we were just too dumb. The professor still teaches.

Nobody doing multiple professions can be best at both job. Teaching and writing are two jobs that people don't take seriously. Only students know how serious of a job is teaching and only readers know how difficult of a job is writing. Everyone else thinks, otherwise.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 10:39
  • "If you're a good researcher, you'd not be your students favorite" My personal experience is the opposite.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 10:57
  • @Nobody There're many reasons why you'd be your student favorite. If students also want to be a researcher or do MS/PhD, then you know why would not they be? (To get benefits from you). I'm talking about being loved in terms of "teaching and making students understand". Teaching properly has been thought of spoonfeeding in universities and professors always get angry with it. Meanwhile, the cost to take that paper called degree doesn't speaks like them.
    – grittynerd
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 11:19
  • plus this is ofc not univeral, but it's majority. It's not just for teaching. Anyone who is putting their hands on two jobs that require considerable attention, is going to perform poorly in either of them based on his priorities. It's psychology and not related to academia tbh.
    – grittynerd
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 11:20

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