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I am a second year PhD student in mathematics.

I often feel like research is emphasized much but teaching is not as compared to research.

I enjoy both aspects of my job. But worry if I may lose motivation on putting my effort into teaching later in my career. Therefore I am seeking some inspiration from other fellow mathematicians.

Could you share stories of mathematicians/physicists, or perhaps yourself on how you managed both in research and teaching, and still find joy in both aspects?

Edit: I live in the U.S.

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    Service (including "outreach") can also be an important element of an academic career. Nearly everyone is expected to do some service, and some faculty end up doing a lot of it. Sep 19 at 14:26
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    It might be worthwhile to mention your country, since things like the balance between teaching and research might depend on your country (and on the different career paths available there). Sep 19 at 15:02
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    Possibly useful is this summary from a 1995 panel discussion about keeping your research alive, especially in a low research focused college/university environment. Sep 19 at 15:46
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    You might really enjoy matheducators.stackexchange.com
    – Stef
    Sep 20 at 9:47

2 Answers 2

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Everyone works out the balance differently. My own focus was primarily teaching and for a lot of my career I wasn't in a situation that advantaged research in any case.

Unless you have something like a TA position, which is "teaching adjacent", it is typical to not get any teaching experience in grad school. However, for those of us who did hold TAs it was possible to be assigned a section of a low level (intro Calc, say) course of our own. We had most of the responsibility other than course design, which had to meet the institutional standard. But we had full responsibility for around 30 students. But this was only possible after several terms of lesser responsibilities (grading, recitation sections, ...).

Most institution have a blended mission; research, teaching, service. Most will be willing to tell you what the expected percentage of "effort" should be applied to each. For a research focused university, something like 60/20/20 might be the norm. But some people will actually be successful there with 80/15/5. Zeros are not helpful (damn those committee meetings...). Others might focus, especially later in their career, on teaching, perhaps focused on doctoral students only if they are still research-active.

For an assistant professor, one needs to adhere fairly closely to expectations in most (not all) cases. Later you have freedom to do more of what you like, though annual reviews might affect what your salary trajectory is if you deviate too much.

My own career was a bit weird since I graduated at a time of no real opportunities for mathematicians. We had just landed on the moon and federal support for math and science, which had been high, went to about zero. This was the fallacy of the last move: "OK, done that, nothing more to do". So, I taught in a place that put zero value on research and high value on teaching - primarily first gen college students. Later positions were more balanced, all with a teaching focus, though research was also valued and supported (travel money especially). I developed a very large set of collaborators, not all of them with the same focus. This gave me entry to a lot of ideas to which I could contribute though teaching was still the main focus of the job itself. I also got a fair number of corporate grants to support ideas I had. At every point, however, I found joy in both teaching and in exploring new ideas, whether formally "research" or not. (Dealing with foolish/idiot administrators was another issue, though.)

If you really want to teach undergraduates, look for job opportunities at places that place high value on that. Same for other preferences.

Note that some liberal arts colleges (my undergrad alma mater, say) are primarily teaching focused but still place high value on research and will back that up with funding as well as advancement/promotion.

I studied at a large R1 (research university). At the time, the regular faculty was required to teach two courses per term. They might be small, advanced, courses (upper division or graduate math) or they might have been large courses for undergraduates, managing many TAs. Research was the main job.

Dartmouth College (really a comprehensive research university in spite of its name) had (has?) a rule that faculty teach four courses per year, which is really one per term since they are on the quarter system. You can concentrate those if you like, within limits, to get a term off from teaching. But teaching there is very intensive, since the students are good and hard working.


Caveat: I'm a mathematician who mostly taught and worked in CS. What I say above may be relevant to both fields, but perhaps not in physics - especially experimental physics. As you get older, lab management and guiding grad students might be the bulk of the job. Others can comment.

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If you are afraid that you lose making enough effort on teaching, I would suggest to focus on research intensive institutions only. This is not a simple task, since research intensive positions are very competitive.

I, for example, am much more passionate about research than on teaching. Therefore, I make a great effort to maximize my research time on the expense of teaching/service-admin. This means working very hard on my research in all sorts of ways to justify a decreased teaching load (grants, output, etc.).

Moreover, in many places (though less so in the US probably), research universities allow you to focus on advanced courses teaching. Teaching very advanced courses is really a part of your research to a certain extent, since you can learn new subjects or results through their teaching.

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    +1 I'd add to your last paragraph that in my experience also teaching more "elementary" courses can be very helpful towards research, though maybe in an indirect way. For instance, I was involved a few times in a first year course in linear algebra (several times as a TA, where I essentially had to come up with the homework problems, and once as the lecturer), and I learned a great deal each time. Sep 19 at 22:04

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