There is an effort at my university to promote "research integrated teaching" [Barnett, 2005; Robertson, 2006] which got me thinking about the topic. I generally make an effort to discuss research problems and recent results when they fit with the material we're covering in a course, but it occurs to me that this is a very passive approach.

I'm interested in developing more active or creative ways that research work and teaching efforts can be combined to benefit the quality of teaching without negatively impacting research. Are there any approaches that have shown to be particularly effective?

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    Answers could be specific to disciplines. (Of course, we might learn something from different disciplines.) Do you want to mention your own? Dec 4, 2014 at 17:24
  • I think it's important to think about both ways in which the faculty member can do things that bring together teaching and research and also ways in which students can be brought into doing research. e.g. you're combining teaching and research if students in a course that you teach do work (as part of the course) on a research project that you're involved in. Dec 4, 2014 at 17:50
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    You might find Mick Healey's website helpful: mickhealey.co.uk/resources. I attended a workshop of his a couple of years ago on integrating research and teaching - it provided numerous examples and food for thought.
    – J W
    Dec 4, 2014 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


An experience that worked out well in my past: in grad school as a TA, I helped to create an "intensive" section of the main introductory artificial intelligence course. Students who opted into the intensive section did two projects and got 25% more units of course credit.

For each project, the students had two options, an "applied" option and a "research" option, each on something highly topical. The research options were always restricted-scope versions of academic research problems that the professor and/or TAs were actually involved in. This was a nice motivator for students, since they could see how what they were doing related to a real scientific problem. The applied option was similarly relevant to industrial R&D. For example, the machine learning project's applied option was typically to build a spam filter against whatever turned up in that year's "wild-harvested" corpus. Students met with their TAs multiple times got guidance while working on the project, and were coached on how to produce a good technical report at the end.

These projects also gave a nice path to getting talented and interested students involved in research as undergraduates. We made a point of reaching out to students whose projects were particularly good and offering to help get them connected with undergraduate research opportunities. Many ended up working joining the professor's research group, and many others joined research groups of other professors where we helped make introductions. A large fraction of those went on to grad school, and at least some to faculty positions (though I don't think anybody ever did a proper quantitative assessment). In effect, doing a "trial run" of working on research-style projects in class both helped students discover interest in research that they might not have realized, and also helped reduce the risk for professors to take them on afterwards.

The main challenges in doing this were:

  1. selecting appropriately scoped projects, complex and interesting enough to give the students a taste of research, but not requiring deep background or more than a few dozen hours of work, and
  2. making sure TAs were sufficiently advanced as grad students to be able to coach the students well.
  • Very interesting suggestion. Did you have any problems with students in the intensive section requiring significant amounts of extra help from you and the TAs?
    – dionys
    Dec 5, 2014 at 14:22
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    @dionys I was one of the TAs---I wouldn't say that we had problems with them needing extra help: the extra time we had to invest (several out of class meetings per student) was part of the design.
    – jakebeal
    Dec 5, 2014 at 14:45

In my field (chemistry, Germany) the Master courses usually include research practica. The topics are usually posted by PhD students and postdocs and are side-issues of their research. These practica are actually part of the regular schedule for the studies, they lead up to the research work for the final thesis.

The big advantage of this is that the students learn how to do research. Actually, I don't see how they should be able to their final thesis (which is always research) without ever having done this before.

In my experience the most dangerous pitfall here is to expect that the student will be productive in the sense that after the student worked a few months, they have more scientific output than their supervisor would have produced in the time they invested in teaching/supervising the student. This almost never happens*. It helps to recall that the practicum is part of the teaching to the practicum supervising PhD student/postdoc, the PhD student's supervisor and to the head of the practicum (who'd often argue that the students help their supervisors as there's usually rather a surplus of students than a surplus of projects).

As @jakebeal says, the advantage for the supervisor/TA (or their group) is that this is a great way to find good and motivated students. And for the students it is a great way of finding a group they want to join for their final thesis and also a possibility to find a sub-field they are interested in.

* unless the student is assigned slave work instead of learning how to do research.

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