It’s sort of conventional wisdom in higher education that teaching detracts from research. According to a new study published in Science, graduate students can improve their research skills by teaching undergraduates. According to a press release about the study issued by the University of Virginia:
According to David Feldon, assistant professor at U.Va.’s Curry School of Education and lead investigator on the study, graduate students in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields, who both teach and conduct research, demonstrate greater growth over an academic year in their abilities to generate testable hypotheses and design experiments around those hypotheses than do grad students who only conduct research.
The study examined students’ performance on 10 research skills demonstrated in research proposals they wrote at the beginning and end of an academic year. Students who had both teaching and research experiences improved more than their research-only counterparts in nine of those. The differences in generating testable hypotheses and designing experiments were statistically significant.
All this is not to say that all professors (or all students) would benefit from more teaching.
It also doesn’t indicate that more teaching results in better research. It does seem to indicate, however, that a little interaction with the real world in the form of instruction might help keep researchers grounded and help them clarify their thinking.