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?

  • 18
    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 Feb 17 '12 at 1:37
  • 2
    You have a spectrum from John Nash to Richard Feynman. Take your pic. – user107 Feb 17 '12 at 19:19
  • 8
    Ugh. Ratemyprofessor? Really?? – JeffE Feb 18 '12 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 Mar 19 '12 at 10:23
  • 3
    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). – Nate Eldredge Jan 6 '13 at 18:22

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!

  • 4
    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. – Jeromy Anglim Apr 10 '12 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 Apr 10 '12 at 9:20
  • 4
    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. – Jeromy Anglim Apr 10 '12 at 11:08

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.

  • 10
    +1 for distinguishing the expository and psychological roles (or the 'teaching' and 'mentoring' roles) – Suresh Apr 9 '12 at 0:25

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.

  • 2
    Causation ≠ correlation :) – F'x Jan 7 '13 at 19:22
  • 2
    @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 Jan 8 '13 at 14:19

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..


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.

  • Any reason for the downvote? – Paul Hiemstra Jan 6 '13 at 18:32
  • 2
    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 Jan 7 '13 at 3:55
  • 1
    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 supports Monica Jan 8 '13 at 18:16
  • 2
    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. Jan 11 '13 at 11:56

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.

  • Unfortunately, many studies use correlation to imply causation. – scaaahu Apr 4 '13 at 6:47

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.


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.


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.

  • 1
    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? – Joanna Bryson Jan 8 '13 at 15:18
  • 2
    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 Jan 9 '13 at 6:07
  • 2
    By the way, I did not down vote your answer Joanna:-)) – user4511 Jan 9 '13 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! – Joanna Bryson Dec 19 '15 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? – Joanna Bryson Dec 27 '15 at 23:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.