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Sunday, April 5, 2009


Make sure you don't put too much effort into teaching.

You may be tempted to do a great job teaching your classes. I think two factors may lie behind this drive. First of all, somewhere deeply in your mind you think that university is all about teaching. In fact, this is what you did as an undergraduate student - you took classes. You admired good teachers, and you loathed crappy ones. So you, as a teacher, may want to be among the good ones. Second, just like any responsible person, you may be too embarrassed to do a crappy job in front of several dozen people.

Putting a lot of effort into teaching is a big mistake. What really counts for your reputation in the program and your future employment prospects in academia is your research. I remember one of the top professors in our field told us the following:

"If you are one of the best teachers in the college, your dean may stop by and say 'you need to improve, buddy!' If you are one of the best teachers in the college, your dean will stop by and say 'great job, buddy!' And that's about it"

Of course, you shouldn't do a really crappy job teaching. Just make sure you do an OK job, may be even slightly below average. I think that some of the most successful students in the department did a really crappy job teaching. To the point where their students would go to out department chair to complain about their teachers dismissing them early from the class or hiding from them outside of classroom hours.

Sounds like a shady advice, but this is the sad reality my friend!


  1. Fly under the radar, that's my motto! No, just kidding. I think that teachers really need to be all that and more when comes to influencing young minds. All to common do I find teachers, at least at the grade school levels, just teaching for an easy pay check. ARE YOU LISTENING FREMONT UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT!!

  2. I think it's even worse at the university level... Professors in good schools are told EXPLICITLY not to WASTE too much time on teaching. Because all that matters for a prof are useless publications that nobody really reads!

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