Teaching vs. Research

I love teaching. I hate teaching. I don’t know. Maybe I haven’t fully made up my mind yet about teaching.

What I absolutely love about teaching are the interactions I have with students. Having interactive group sessions, q and a’s, one-on-one sessions with project students that every week can show a little progress. I love that.

What I’m learning to love is giving lectures. I didn’t like it one bit when I just started out. I was afraid. Afraid that I would talk rubbish. Afraid that I could not fill time with my talks. Afraid that I wouldn’t know enough. Now that I’ve been teaching for a while, it’s quite clear to me that I can ramble on and on, and easily fill an hour. In fact, I usually tend to talk too long, not too short. These days I feel a bit more comfortable teaching lectures. Interestingly, I have never given a lecture in person. It’s going to be odd to transition back to a presence format in the future. Nonetheless, I think I will learn to love lecturing in person as well, as it would certainly involve more interactions than just me and the record button.

What I don’t like about teaching is that I have to provide feedback and grade, as all reports are usually in German, especially in the BSc phase. German was my fourth language (in terms of talking and writing skill) when I moved here. My French was probably a bit better, so I always considered that the third. That order has swapped around. I have no trouble speaking German, and have learned to accept that I speak professional German, but with a toddler twist. Fuck German grammar. Anyways, regardless of speech, I still struggle with reading. And especially judging the reports is horrible for me. First of all, Germans have this way of saying the same thing twice, in other words, they say exactly the same thing in different verbage (see what I did there?). The result is that German reports are 25 pages long, when they could be 10. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. Germans also write different then they speak. Overly formal writing with a lot of fluff. Reading German takes me long to cut through all the bullshit. I don’t like it. I also think it is a bit much to ask a foreign employee to learn a third language for teaching. That I don’t like about teaching.

What I absolutely hate about teaching is that being a good and creative teacher is almost a full-time job. I can’t make it a full-time job, because I have a lot of other things to do. But I wish I could sometimes. Or even quite often. I could prepare and offer a whole lot of interesting excursions, lectures, interactive and hands-on practicals, if only I would have the time to prepare any. I’m sure that my boss would applaud me for doing it, but I don’t. This would mean zero time left for my own work, my research, really the only reason why I’m doing this whole thing in the first place. I think the teaching would be a whole lot better if we would employ full-timers on certain teaching positions. I don’t know why it is the way it is, but I guess the reason is money. Instead, they’d rather hire motivated postdocs, offer them no future job security, but a chance to work on something they love, while forcing them to make their teaching hours, and scare you with words like breach of contract.

I know people will disagree with me, but for me, being a good teacher and being a good scientist do not go hand in hand. Every time I spend more on teaching, I feel a bit better as a teacher, but as a trade-off, I will be less productive as a scientist. If I choose my research, the quality of my teaching goes down (and in my head it feels quite drastic). I think it’s a shame that the system works this way. It would be pretty easy to fill 100% teaching positions, and maybe even more easy to fill 100% research positions. I would be happy to take a permanent position for either side.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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