The Impossible Triad

A belated post about the professorial requirement of teaching, research and service – seems nearly impossible to do simultaneously. Something has to give, and it usually seems to be the teaching.

It is a little saddening to see professors who have received numerous teaching awards early on in their careers slowly drift away from teaching due to other obligations. If we were to be cynical, then it’d be easy to say that the financial incentives lie outside of academia. Consulting, after all, is much more lucrative. But I also think the shift in focus is not entirely the professor’s fault. Responsibilities come naturally with good reputation and expertise. The professors are called upon to solve problems nobody else could solve. They are bestowed cross-country lecture honors impossible to turn down. With finite time and energy, priorities shift, and students get bumped lower on the list.

My experience has been to fill in the role of teacher whenever my advisor is away. While a good experience for me, it might not always be optimal for the students. I cannot offer the industry experience and the holistic perspectives my advisor can, especially for courses at the graduate engineering level. The irony is that teaching engineering requires industry experience, but it is also the industry experience that takes away teaching.

When service requirements become especially demanding, research could suffer as well. I find that while PhD students still get the attention, students conducting research at the Masters level seem to fade into insignificance.

I am not sure how anyone could simultaneously juggle so many responsibilities. It is not even a matter of cutting back on hours of sleep or abusing tenure. Responsibilities shift, and it’s not always possible or even ethical to say “no.”