I enjoy doing research directly and this was my motivation for seeking an academic job in the first place. I am aware that many professors at some point cease directly doing research and transition to purely guiding the research of postdocs and graduate students. My PhD advisor, for instance, did not set up and run simulations himself during most of the time that I worked for him. However, I had the impression that this was due to his personal tastes (I saw him as valuing prestige and advancement rather than gaining joy from science itself, which might have been unfair). However, I just spoke to a recently tenured professor in my field who seemed to have a lot of passion for the details of the work (as I do) and was quite shocked when he told me that he hadn't run a simulation himself in several years.

As a tenure-track professor at a North American university with a few years of experience, I am quite aware that the demands of writing proposals, teaching and administrative tasks make it difficult to spend a lot of time "with your hands in the dirt" directly performing research tasks. However, I would like to know: Is it common for successful professors to still directly do significant research themselves? Must I give up all day-to-day research tasks to be a successful professor? Is moving toward a purely managerial role inevitable? Will I grow to gain more satisfaction from directing my students in research than doing it myself? Do many professors miss directly performing research, but feel that they can no longer do it due to other demands?

In my field, doing research directly involves setting up and running simulations, as well as writing code to analyze the results. However, I'd like to also hear about people's experience in experimental fields, where the analog of running simulations would be going into the lab and directly running samples on laboratory equipment.

The following thread covers the reasons why professors don't spend a majority of their time directly doing research, but I'd like to know if successful professors can spend some of their time directly doing research or how they feel about no longer being immersed in the details of their research.

Why professors spend most of their time to write proposals than doing research?

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    This at least depends on the field (e.g., my assumption is that this mostly can't be the case in math). Perhaps specifying your field would help get better responses? Jul 9, 2017 at 21:28
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    This is hard to answer. In my field, there are top guys who continue to get their hands dirty and there are those who become managers of all things research. Personally, I have not coded up anything significant in the past 10 years. I only go far as being able to give students a pseudo-code or flow-chart. Students will need to work out the details themselves. Jul 9, 2017 at 23:18
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    This does not seem as a good use of your time. Why would you do something a graduate student can do as good as you? You can go on and do something else that is more important.
    – Shake Baby
    Jul 10, 2017 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


Only give up research if you can't do anything your students can't. Until then, if you continue to do research, you'll do things your students can't.

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