In this post I want to talk about the relationship between your research and your teaching.
Researchers may feel that they walk a lonely path – and they do. Research by its nature is an individual and personal activity. It is probably one of few professional career paths in which you are positively encouraged to act on the world around you according to highly personal ideas.
And yet – speaking anecdotally even and only from my own experience of the research world as I know it through departments I have taught at, conferences and impromptu debates around coffee machines (!) – most researchers aren’t by nature disengaged from other people. On the contrary, we seem to be insatiably curious about and interested in other people, or we would not spend large chunks of our lives seeking to add a tiny, original drop to the vast ocean of knowledges man and woman have created together over the centuries.
The good news is that our chosen line of work offers its own way out of the loneliness I think many of us have felt, in our hours and years spent following a research trail.
As teachers, we automatically find a social dimension to our work.
In our classrooms we come up against fresh faces and minds to whom we seek to make our ideas both clear and relevant.
We also find a whole new social dynamic in bringing our research selves into the light of day and into the classroom.
I am presently working on a university language and study skill teaching assignment where it is the meta-skills – to use a word any self respecting dictionary would probably reject on sight – of being a learner (and a teacher) which count. Life in the classroom isn’t about ideas right now – its about ideas about ideas. How to frame, present and deal with an argument. What to do when the Harvard style guide won’t tell you how to cite a completely new kind of source which wasn’t around when it was last revised.
I hope I’ll also have a chance to teach the literary periods I specialized in – but stretching to teach language and study skills is gifting me an important kind of knowledge. The knowledge of social contact – where the work I produced over years spent largely in the company of my own mind is being translated into something immediately and socially valuable.
Be flexible and be open to the opportunities around you – don’t shy away because you think it’s not what you trained to do. Let your research self breathe and your teaching self too – they need to not be frozen into one place and one time in an infinite universe.