Future of the University: Teaching or Research?

Ever since my first day in College, I’ve heard a rumor that “good teachers can’t do research and good researchers can’t teach”, which is true based on my experience. The best teachers I’ve had during my higher education are usually not as proficient at research as those “bad” teachers. However, while I admire those good researchers, I really suffer from their teaching. Most of the times they sit on the podium and read slides. Students do all kinds of things in the classroom but listening to the lecture. Then in the last few days of class we download the slides and cram for exams. I learnt nothing.

Ever since my first day of preparing to be a future professor in higher education, I’ve heard two completely different voices. Most of my Ph.D. friends and some professors say “The only thing that determines whether you are a good professor or not, whether you get promotion or not, and whether you can really have a place in higher education or not is publication”. “Publication publication publication.” They stressed, “That’s the only important thing. Do not waste time on teaching; it’s just an obligation that needs to be done.” Well, to some extent I know that they are right. But then my advisor, my classmates and instructors in the Preparing Future Professoriate program say “teaching is as well important! We need to be good teachers in higher education for the future generation”. I know they are correct, too.

Therefore, ever since my first day of writing blogs about higher education, I’ve been thinking about this question: What will I put more emphasis on once I become a university professor? Teaching or research? Can I do both well? If not, if I choose research, will I become one of the professors that I hated during my own higher education? No that’s not what I want to do! How can I solve this dilemma?

Well, In my very first blog post for this class, I wrote about university’s mission statements. And I can see that while some universities put more emphasis on research, others put more on teaching. So that’s a good thing and possibly a solution to my problem. If I like teaching more, I can go to a teaching university and vice versa. But, most of the good universities in the States (and in many other countries, too) emphasize research, which means that a lot of good students in these top universities may actually not receive a top higher education because that’s not where the universities put emphasis on!

We can’t blame the professors too much on this because everyone has limited energy and it’s hard to achieve high results in both teaching and research. Virginia Tech is trying to solve this by hiring collegiate professors, who are only in charge of teaching and don’t need to do research. I really like this idea. But then another problem comes out: how can we relate the cutting-edge scientific results from good research to our higher education teaching?

How to achieve both good teaching and research: this is a problem that needs an urgent solution for higher education and we really need to put equal emphasis on both. Higher education is where our future generation is educated and inspired, and they deserve a good teaching environment. If we keep neglecting the importance of a good balance between teaching and research, we will make higher education less and less efficient helpful.

University Culture

April 8, 2016 was the 120th birthday of my undergraduate university — Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), because Jiao Tong means “transportation” and there is a Chinese idiom related to “4” and “8” that means “extend in all directions”.

The University has been publicizing this and almost all the big electronic screens in Shanghai are playing our promotional videos recently. All kinds of shows and programs are initiated to celebrate SJTU’s 120 birthday. Famous people such as our president and Ming Yao, who is the former NBA basketball player in Huston Rocket, is back to school and is attending SJTU to get a business degree now, even attended in a comedy to celebrate the birthday.

0E7857345B24CB9AADC5BEE70633AFDC B3CA0D5967960D06ED5D2E3E93158ADC


We are so proud of our universities and really have a sense of belonging there. That is part of universities’ culture that I believe is really important. In the States, universities such as VT have sports culture, Greek life, Hokies T-shirts, etc. Surprisingly, in a lot of other universities worldwide, there’s no university T-shirt. Back to SJTU, we have T-shirts and hats of SJTU as well, and they are usually of good quality and not cheap. Other university cultures include the university song, the university slogan, the university badge and so on.

University culture is a good way of publicizing and improve students sense of belonging. It is an important part of university life and worth spending time and money.

Gender Gaps in Academia

I ran into a discussion on the average IQ plot of students by gender ratio the other day. The plot is attached here and follow this link for the original post.


An interesting and obvious “fact” from this plot seems to be that the more women a major has, the lower average IQ the students from that major have; thus men are smarter than women. But, assuming that the statistics are accurate (which probably are not and have some kind of sampling bias), we should not forget that correlation is NOT causation.

For example, in an experiment conducted by Katherine Milkman, Module Akinola, and Dolly chugh (look at the New York Times report on this), they sent more than 6500 randomly selected professors from 259 American universities from fictional prospective students for Ph.D. program seeking. And it turned out that professors were more responsive to white male students than to female, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students in almost EVERY discipline and across all types of universities. And that the lower the percentage of the minorities (including women) in a discipline, the less responsive the professors to the minorities were. This could be one of the potential reasons for the less representative of women in technology and science.

Also, since 1970, the percentage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has actually been increasing from 7% to 26% in 2011 according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The situation is continuously changing with the liberation of women going on.

In conclusion, this plot is worth discussing but DOES NOT mean that men are smarter than women. Let’s continue striving for making our higher education more inclusive and prejudice-free.

Thanks to the post by Yuguangtongchen on Zhihu (Chinese Quora) to inspire me on this post.