Teaching academics often struggle to balance their responsibilities for student learning with research activities.
With increasing pressure to produce research that leads to articles and successful funding applications, it’s essential to find a balance that allows you to excel in both areas.
It’s common to feel that it is ‘teaching versus research’ rather than ‘teaching and research’.
Achieving an effective balance is possible though.
Here are some tips on how you can balance your time to produce high quality research outputs and secure external funding, even with a substantial teaching workload.
1. Time Management
Effective time management is key to balancing teaching and research.
Academics often bemoan the fact that they don’t have significant blocks of time available to them to conduct research.
However, is this really true?
If you have a certain amount of time to complete the marking of student work (say three weeks), think about ways in which you can change the assessment so that it takes a lot less time.
If you can mark everything in one week, you have just released a significant block of time for research.
Find time Throughout Your Day
Lots of time is lost through small delays or gaps between significant activities.
Let’s say that you have 15 minutes between the end of one meeting and the start of another. You might think that such a gap is not suitable for research related activity.
15 minutes could be enough time for you to proof-read a single paragraph of a research paper that you have been working on.
Cut some words. Make it snappier to read. Make progress.
This investment of 15 minutes that you have found during a busy day will help you move that article nearer to publication.
So just face the facts: your time is fragmented by teaching, student support and administration activities.
Use this ‘bitty’ time to perform research tasks that don’t require much effort to think.
Schedule And Plan
This means that you should:
– consciously schedule time for research;
– once you have scheduled time, proactively plan to use the time productively by assigning micro-activities that inch your research forward.
It’s also important to become more comfortable with managing expectations and saying “no”; responding to emails within 24 hours is perfectly acceptable when dealing with most enquiries.
Just make sure that having set this expectation, which gives you the space and flexibility to conclude the tasks you are already working on, you actually honour your commitment to respond within the 24 hour time frame.
You might need to work out your own system for reminding yourself that the email needs answering. Check your email client for features that can help you with this.
It will take some time for you to settle into routines that make good use of your time. In the meantime don’t overstuff your calendar. You need time to unwind and to recuperate as well.
Start small and commit to a small change in how you approach your time management.
Collaboration with other researchers can be a powerful tool for teaching academics.
Seek out opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, both within and outside of your department. Collaborative projects can provide access to new resources, skills, and knowledge, as well as an opportunity to share the workload.
Get used to advertising your work at local research seminars, and attend the seminars that other academics present at.
Look for opportunities where you can help people who need your skills. This is a great way of establishing productive research partnerships that are mutually beneficial.
For instance, you might have expertise in research methods or article writing, and your collaborator might have particular skills and experience in experiments that you can benefit from.
And don’t forget to collaborate with students. The more that you include them in your research, the more that they can help you.
The ultimate way to do this is through Tip 3.
3. Align Your Research With Your Teaching
Linking your research and teaching activities provides substantial benefits for both you and your students.
Look for opportunities to incorporate your research into your teaching, such as using case studies or research findings in your sessions. This approach can help to streamline your workload while allowing you to develop both areas in tandem.
Students are generally inspired when they are working on the same research as their tutor. Use this scenario to drive forward the design of your teaching content and delivery.
This is achieved through curriculum development.
Use internal quality assurance processes to modify the curriculum to align with your research specialism. Think about approaches that can include students in your research, such as these 6 examples:
- Assignments that enable students to develop vital research skills, using your research topics;
- Writing research papers collaboratively with students;
- Using poster sessions to have students working together to exchange ideas;
- Teaching students how to write research outcomes with clarity and impact;
- Having students review each others’ work and provide feedback for improvement;
- Support students’ development by providing them with opportunities to design taught classes based on the research skills that they have learned.
There are countless opportunities to streamline your teaching workload while maximising the potential for improved student outcomes and high quality research outputs.
4. Use Technology
Technology can help to further streamline your research activities and save time.
Consider using tools such as reference management software, collaboration tools and writing aids. These tools can help to reduce the time required for research activities and improve the quality of your outputs.
Use these tools to help students understand academic integrity, so that they can utilise methods to conduct rigorous research without resorting to plagiarism.
Adopt tools that help you create your own workflow. Teach the tools to your students so that they can contribute and collaborate with you on your research activities, using cloud-based software.
You could develop your own approaches to streamlining literature reviews and the management of literature sources. You might build tools that help you conduct your experiments.
Show students how to use these tools to build a community that can support you with your research.
5. Seek Support
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek support when needed. This could include seeking advice from senior colleagues or utilising support services such as research development offices.
These resources can provide valuable guidance and support to help you balance your workload and produce quality research outputs.
Balancing teaching and research can be challenging and it does require a conscious effort to establish the routines necessary to be successful as an academic.
But with the right habits in place, teaching academics can produce high quality research outputs and secure external funding.