#18: How To Manage Research Staff Who Resist Supporting Students

Man not helping woman

Managing a researcher who is resistant to teaching or supporting university students can be a delicate situation for any academic manager.

While the primary responsibility of a researcher is to conduct high-quality research, universities are also expected to provide students with high-quality education and support.

So, how can we manage researchers who do not want to engage in teaching or student support?

1. Clarify expectations

The first step in managing such a situation is to clarify expectations.

Managers should communicate clearly with researchers about their role and responsibilities. This includes any teaching or student support duties required of them. 

It’s important to communicate the consequences of not meeting these expectations to ensure that researchers understand the gravity of the situation.

I’ve faced this situation many times as a manager. It’s particularly challenging in teaching-intensive environments, where the expectations for student satisfaction are high, yet there is an impetus to improve research quality.

The modern reality is that universities have to aim to excel at research and teaching. And so as managers, we need to facilitate this.

What is difficult is that research performance is relatively straightforward to define as there are tangibles to use as evidence – volume and quality of scholarly outputs, amount of external funding won, etc.

However, teaching performance is more nebulous to define unless it is going well!

Student satisfaction is not always reported in a way that represents the learning experience. Students have external pressures that cause them not to attend, so it isn’t always the case that a tutor’s delivery lacks engagement.

And this is where a conversation around expectations is helpful. Have a chat about ensuring that staff always turn up on time and they produce timely feedback. Remind a colleague that they should clarify and manage the expectations of their students, to minimise future confusion and disappointment.

And reassure staff that if they do the basics correctly, it is highly likely that the learning experience shall be good.

2. Offer incentives

Managers might also consider offering incentives to encourage researchers to engage in teaching or student support.

Additional resources for research projects may encourage researchers to take on additional responsibilities. Universities can also provide training to help researchers develop the skills needed to engage with students.

For example, workshops, mentoring or coaching can help researchers develop their teaching skills.

After you have had your initial conversations with staff from step 1, you might have identified some areas of development for staff. Ensure that this development takes place and that you provide the support to follow-up with other needs that might come to light.

The more you support, the more staff will see opportunities to develop themselves, rather than worrying about how they can survive.

Happy staff, happy students.

3. Assign a mentor

Another way to manage researchers who are reluctant to teach or support students is by assigning them a mentor.

The mentor can guide the researcher through the teaching and mentoring process, provide support, and give advice on how to interact with students effectively.

Staff can present many barriers to engaging with students. Especially if they see it as a distraction from their core research activities.

Often it is a case of showing staff how they can include students in their research. This is the sort of experience that is not generally available in staff development courses.

It’s the experience that has been won by more experienced academic staff. those who have found their own ways of first coping, and then thriving in the academic environment.

Mentors deliver immeasurable value.

Find them and use them.

4. Be creative

It’s important to recognise that researchers have their strengths, and teaching or student support may not be one of them.

Therefore, managers could find other ways for researchers to contribute to the university’s goals. For example, researchers can collaborate with other faculty members, engage in community outreach programmes, or participate in university committees.

It could be that there is a situation where a member of staff could be actually contributing more value to the institution if they were doing some else other than teaching. They might be really good at one-off teaching events, like engaging with feeder institutions during the recruitment process.

They might excel representing their colleagues online on videos or podcasts. They might be excellent copywriters who can prolifically persuade through their writing.

A good proportion of management is about compromise.

But don’t let that stifle how creative you can be when re-positioning staff.


Managing researchers who are reluctant to teach or support students requires a thoughtful approach.

It’s essential to communicate expectations and consequences clearly, consider the use of incentives, provide training, assign a mentor, and recognise researchers’ strengths.

A constructive approach to the situation can help maintain a positive relationship between the researcher and their manager while still ensuring that students receive the support they need to achieve their academic goals.