Balancing Lecturing with Researching: how to do both and stay sane!

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One of the most difficult challenges facing an academic is how to be a good all-rounder. In some positions you are required to do more research than teaching and vice versa. But many scholars are now encouraged (by the demands of the RAE and the needs of their own institutions) to multi-task, to be a good teacher and a good researcher. This article offers some advice on how to achieve that goal.

How to be a good lecturer

There are several articles and white papers on this site offering advice on how to be a good lecturer in a general sense and how to get offered jobs doing exactly that. Here I want to think about how it is possible to remain dedicated to your students while facing pressures of completing research projects and administration tasks. As an aside, most of the pressure will come directly from your employees and students, but also many scholars are driven by the desire to be good a teacher and improve their teaching practice all the time. Personal career development is one way of ensuring that your teaching remains fresh in a hectic world. Getting assistance from educational advisors such as people who run diplomas in post-compulsory education will help you bring new ideas and practices to your teaching.

Another way of staying focussed on your teaching is by being an excellent time manager. Use the summer break to prepare new modules, adjust old ones and ensure that you are providing your students with the most up to date resources possible. Once term starts it's difficult to stay on top of things, so most of this ‘maintenance' work needs to be done after you have relaxed at the end of the year. It is possible to act on student feedback at that stage too.

How to be a good researcher

The advice of many lecturers would be to completely write-off term time and not attempt to do any research activities during that period. Rightly so, they argue that you will be so absorbed marking, keeping your records up to date and spending time with your students that your own work will be allowed to slip a little. Most people find that they need a long time to focus on their research: a period of a day or a half-day at least to get into the swing of things and absorb oneself into the process. And, of course, if you need to work away from home in an archive, library or laboratory, then it is extremely difficult to find the time to do this during term time.

However, there is no need to abandon your research activities completely. Smaller discreet tasks are manageable in a few hours. For example, you could read a single book and then write a book review. Some academics find that their timetable allows them to go to conferences during term time, although it's not a good idea to take a long time off teaching in an impromptu fashion, expecting colleagues to take up the slack: you will soon become unpopular!

The holidays, especially the summer holidays are a lecturer's ideal time to undertake research, either by attending conferences, going to do research elsewhere, perhaps taking up short-term fellowships at libraries or other institutions, and writing articles, papers, monographs or textbooks. The key to this is time management. Make sure that you are fully prepared to dedicate the required amount of hours to your research over the summer. But allow yourself a break too. It can be easy to forget to take an actual personal holiday! Also maintain your record-keeping thoroughly during term time and you won't find you are desperately scrambling around to submit exam marks and catch up in the time you could have been dedicating to research.

How to balance the two

By taking the academic year as a holistic entity it is possible to see how the pressures on one's time ebb and flow, and both teaching and research can be achieved within this schedule. It is important not to overwork yourself in the term time or holidays because you will be unprepared for the other when it comes around, the key is to work efficiently and consistently at your teaching and research tasks and plan ahead to avoid committing to impossible deadlines.

Attracting funding to achieve more time to research

Some institutions, including former Polytechnics, but especially the research-driven Russell Group universities, appear at first glance to put more of a premium on their research reputation and therefore encourage staff to apply for funding that will allow them to engage in more research and the department to buy-in replacement staff to teach their courses. This has the advantage of raising the research profile of the institution and individual but also of providing job experience often for a junior scholar about to finish his or her PhD or undertaking postdoctoral work. There is advice elsewhere on this site about winning research funding so I will not go into this in depth now. Suffice to say that this option is one that is open to scholars for whom a few months over the summer is not long enough to undertake the sort of project they have in mind and who need a longer time away from their teaching commitments. And achieving this sort of funding looks very impressive on your CV, so do not shy away from it. If you choose to do so, you will probably be able to do a small amount of teaching, even if it's just a few lectures or one seminar in order to ‘keep your hand in' with teaching.

Maintaining a work/life balance

The desire for lecturers to do high levels of research as well as being polished and dedicated teachers has come even more to the fore in the last few decades, especially with the pressures to produce published work driven by the RAE. This has led to a reduction in job satisfaction for some members of staff, while others find that they are routinely putting in working weeks much longer than the average. Add to that the regular academic pressures of commuting, wages and so on and it is easy to understand why it is so important to maintain a work-life balance. Many academics say that occasionally they wish they did have a job where you could switch off, and know that at 5pm your working day was finished, but academia is not like that. So make sure that in your drive to become a good all-rounder that you please your institution and impress future employers, and don't forget to protect your health and personal life.

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