Mixed messages

This coordinator constantly seeks to improve his teaching and materials to maximise the students learning experience. He struggles with the teaching/research dilemma and the focus on research outputs required to gain recognition and be valued by the university. The role is a constant juggle. More...

I have coordinated this science unit for two years and I know I am valued by my students. I constantly look for ways to improve my teaching and make the materials more relevant to the students. However, it is difficult to demonstrate quality in teaching other than in student feedback surveys. Academics can apply for excellence in teaching awards but that is not something I want to hinge my career on. I deliver the best I can for my students and strive for the finest student feedback but I think that is as far as I can go with any unit to demonstrate my competence. Most of the recognition is personal rather than public. One of the main drivers for me as unit coordinator is to engage my students and interest them in following a research career. With research there are many quantifiable incentives, such as publishing, receiving grants and supervising research students.

So while I enjoy teaching I am not driven by teaching. Instead I am driven by the research process. In this school we try to focus our teaching into one semester and leave the second semester free for research. Sometimes this pattern results in a huge teaching load occurring just as the research data need to be written up and presented, and research grant applications are due. I feel that we receive mixed messages from our leaders. Because this is an innovative university we are encouraged to write successful research grants and supervise research students. Simultaneously we are required to deliver quality teaching without any guidance as to how best to balance the two requirements. In the end I think most people compromise while understanding there is more recognition for research outcomes than quality teaching.

Currently I supervise eight research students, in addition to several research assistants and post doctoral students. I keep very busy juggling my teaching and research responsibilities and my personal life. I am at the point where I must say ‘Stop. This is demoralising and too much for me to maintain’. I am uncomfortable being unable to deliver the quality teaching and research I want to and becoming increasingly frustrated as a unit coordinator.

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