Suppose that our friends Alice and Bob are both academicians (academician: a member of the faculty of a college or university) in universities A and B respectively.

University A requires a lot of teaching and administrative work, whereas university B requires a certain amount of research and only a small amount of administrative stuff.

Alice enjoys research very much but she cannot spend enough time to conduct research and be productive in terms of publications. Bob, on the other hand conducts research since it is part of his job and does not really spend effort to improve his projects.

Let Charles be a member of the admission committee in university C that has an open PhD position. If both Alice and Bob applies to the position, he will see that Bob has been involved to more research projects than Alice, moreover, Alice has no publications and has spent her time on teaching.

The thing is, Alice does teaching really nice and gets positive feedback from both professors and students. It is clear that Alice can do her job above-the-average. Bob, on the other hand does not even need a feedback. He proved that he can do research by his projects and publications.

Suppose that both Alice and Bob are started working as faculty when they were master's students and now they are PhD students who want to find a position in a different university because of their own reasons.

Considering that both Alice and Bob are currently faculty members, Bob is one step further from Alice in terms of getting the PhD position, if not many steps.

What can Alice do to prove that she can be a way more better researcher given time and opportunity? Is there any "Charles" who is ready to give that chance?

If you are "Charles" (a member of an admission committee), would you give that chance to Alice? If you would, under what conditions?

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    As far as I can understand the question, it is asking about the relative weight placed on research versus teaching for an academic job. Where in the world are you? In the US system it is well understood that this is a spectrum, and you must locate your approximate position on the spectrum in order to apply to the right kind of academic job. Elsewhere in the world the answers might be different. I have to say though that your question is worryingly obscure. In part you seem to be asking "How can I improve my research profile without doing any research?" Um...perhaps you can't. Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 3:07
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    I've removed my comments about the previous version of the question, as it has now been clarified. However, I am still confused about why "academicians" are applying to a PhD position. What position do Alice and Bob currently hold? I think the answer to this question depends very much on that detail.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 21:26
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    I appreciate your response, but I still don't understand the key point: you seem to be claiming that Alice and Bob are both master's students and faculty members. Maybe Turkish academic culture views them that way, but you should know that in most of the rest of the academic world that would be viewed as a contradictory statement. Moreover, if they are master's students, that's a key part of the question, whereas insisting on just saying that they're faculty members and then mentioning that they want to apply for PhDs is going to confuse most of your readers. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 22:05
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    In this post you said that you're a PhD student, but here you say masters student. Which are they? Edit that information into the post.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 22:32
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    @cagirici Yes, it definitely matters. As you have seen from the other post you just answered, people are somewhat wary of hiring current PhD students looking to transfer to another PhD, but not of masters students seeking to get admitted to a PhD program for the first time. Generally, transferring between PhD programs is not a "normal" academic pathway, but going from masters to PhD is.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 22:39

3 Answers 3


"What can Alice do to prove that she can be a way more better researcher given time and opportunity? "

How do you know? From your description, Alice pines to do research but has absolutely nothing to prove that she is a better researcher. Teaching and research are entirely different skill sets; being good at one does not mean being good at the other! She has allowed herself to be stuck in a mainly teaching role, rather than a research focused role. Universities don't just want researchers, they want sharks; people that know exactly what they want and go after it. Alice making excuses will not make her appear to be a shark.

If Charles is interested in hiring a researcher, why would he ever choose someone who has, from your description, absolutely no experience in research versus Bob who presumably has a track record? That said, if Bob isn't a shark either but just kind of drifted from lab to lab and acquired the 15th name on a couple of papers along the way, I can guarantee that they aren't going to be too interested in Bob either.

If Alice wants to do research, then she needs to make some fundamental changes in her life. Her best bet is probably to carefully read her contract with regard to responsibility hours then go to her department and demand a change in her schedule to allow her greater time for research. Then she needs to buckle down and produce and publish.

Alternatively, she can try applying for places and say that she is looking to break away in order to do research, but again research is expensive and she will really need to sell whatever experience she has in order to convince them that they should take the risk on her.

I'm genuinely sorry to have to be blunt like this, but I see no other way. I think there should be far more appreciation for teaching oriented professors in a learning institution. Instead they get some lip service and little else. But you came here for truth, and this is the truth as I know it. Nobody will care about what Alice might do if they see absolutely no background that supports such assertions.

On a personal level as an example: when going for the NSF graduate fellowship, I didn't receive one even though the reviewers stated that the idea was great, the proposal well written, and the research seemed reasonable and doable, because I hadn't published enough papers. As an undergrad, I had published three. That wasn't enough though, apparently. Nonetheless, it hammers home the point that it didn't matter how bright I made the future sound given that my past wasn't up to snuff.


On your last question: in the US, it depends very much on the institution. Research-heavy universities are going to pay attention to your publications and ignore your teaching. They will tell you that your teaching matters, but if you have good publications, nobody will care that you've never taught a class... whereas the best teaching evaluations won't help you get the position.

Once you start as a professor, your optimal strategy is to spend just enough time on teaching so that students won't complain to the department chair. There's a lot wrong with that, and if you enjoy teaching you may want to spend more time on it. But at the end of the day, you don't get non-renewed for poor teaching evaluations when you're a productive researcher, whereas the most glowing teaching evaluations won't help you get tenure if you don't meet the research requirements.

Teaching colleges care less about research and more about teaching, so there are places that value it. But these institutions, on the whole, are a lot less prestigious and pay substantially less. (There are exceptions, of course.)

I'll let others answer your question about PhD studentships, as I'm not familiar with that system. However, I do want to note that doing good research is often more about putting in the hours than being particularly brilliant. It seems to me that just about anyone in any field, after completing graduate coursework and reading 100 papers, can think of something that is new and interesting. It's finding the time to read those 100 papers (and to sit down and think about extensions) that is difficult. So your first goal should be to prioritize: less time on teaching, more time on research. Teaching can take up your entire day if you let it -- and it can be very rewarding. But if your goal is a research-oriented position, then you can't allow it to do so.

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    "It seems to me that just about anyone in any field, after completing graduate coursework and reading 100 papers, can think of something that is new and interesting." I'm not convinced this is true in my field (math). Two provisos: (i) I mean that it is not automatically true. I think that most students who can be induced to complete a math PhD can also be induced to think of things which are new and interesting, but unfortunately the training for one does not necessarily encompass the other. (ii) Most math PhD students read a lot fewer than 100 papers. Some read 0 papers (unassisted). Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 3:12
  • It seems that the question (now that it has been clarified) now asks about being hired to a PhD position, not a faculty position.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 21:29

I think a lot of confusion in the question comments stems from Alice and Bob both being called "faculty" employed at universities while still looking for PhD positions. I am interpreting the situation as follows - if this is fundamentally incorrect tell me, and I will update or delete:

Both Alice and Bob currently hold a bachelor or master's degree only. Yet they are employed in some capacity by presumably lower-ranked universities. Their job title may be something like assistant professor and they are considered faculty with job security, but the job is essentially a permanent teaching / research assistant position. They currently are not PhD students or on any sort of track to a "better" position, so they are considering applying to a PhD programme in a different, presumably better university, likely in a country that it not familiar with their current situation.

(this understanding is based on a few incoming students from East Asia that were in similar situations before coming to our university - it used to confuse the heck out of us when they said that they were permanent faculty back home, but the key to understanding the situation is that in some weaker universities in Asia one can essentially be a permanent research or teaching assistant, which are officially called something like "pre-PhD professors")

With this understanding, I think @user2898391's answer is out of scope - it focuses on academics applying to faculty positions, not people that are currently on a faculty position of sorts which are now applying for PhD student positions.

After this lengthy introduction, my answer is to a large degree similar to the answer by @Broklynite.

What can Alice do to prove that she can be a way more better researcher given time and opportunity?

At the end of the day, Alice does not yet know that she will "be a way better researcher" than Bob. The fact that she gets great feedback on her teaching shows that she is good at teaching. It does not mean that she will certainly be a great researcher. As you say yourself, Alice is indeed one step farther "away" from a great research position than Bob simply by the fact that Bob already is on a research position (and, presumably, is currently learning the trade and improving, even if the position may not be optimal) while Alice in her current position is not.

Is there any "Charles" who is ready to give that chance?

I assume Alice's best bet is to apply to PhD student positions with a stronger teaching focus. For such a position, her current CV makes her a competitive candidate versus Bob. At least in central Europe, such positions do exist. I know that because I had a position like that for the better part of my studies. Another example is the web page of a former colleague of mine who is doing a PhD financed via a lot of semi-independent teaching (note the job title "University Assistant" - this is what this is called in Austria). However, there are two further challenges: (1) for such PhD student positions, strong knowledge of the local language is often required for undergrad teaching, and (2) those positions are not numerous and they are often not widely announced.

If you are "Charles" (a member of an admission committee), would you give that chance to Alice? If you would, under what conditions?

Only if I have a position that requires a lot of teaching. To be blunt, I see very little reason to hire Alice on a pure research position over Bob.

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