NANFA-L-- Re: teaching and research (long)
Mon, 28 Mar 2005 14:13:23 -0600

A NANFA poster asked about college-university faculty responsibilities -
- specifically, what is "wrong" with teaching only positions (no
research responsibility) and publish or perish situations that result
in (according to the poster) faculty members publishing stuff that no
one is interested in or that is of little value.

First -- there are teaching positions with no research expectation.
Many of these are in community colleges, but some are in bacalaureate
granting institutions. The latter have become relatively rarer in
recent years, as bacalaureate institutions want their graduates to have
research experience as a part of their degree qualifications. Almost
no graduate level positions are teaching only. Many people feel like
research activity is a qualification for teaching. One analogy I have
heard regards training people to be automobile mechanics. Would you
want your daughter to learn that trade from a master mechanic, or from
someone who has read books about cars? This makes the point that those
who practice a science or art may be best qualified to teach that
science or art. Of course, that overlooks the point that not all
practitioners are researchers -- some apply knowledge and skill about a
subject in other ways -- fishery management, for example. But
nevertheless, practicing biologists, for example, may be better
prepared to teach biology than those who merely study biology from
published sources.

So far as the importance of the published work of faculty members, or
the level of interest that others have in that work: Not all work is
recognized as important when it is in progress or when it is published,
yet proves over time to be exceedingly so. In the history of biology,
work that was well known as of great importance while in progrss, and
whose publication was eagerly awaited by peers was that of Charles
Darwin. Work that was unkown except to a handful of persons working in
the same field, and that went unrecognized as important for decades
after publicaton was that of Gregor Mendel. Further, in most
disciplines, it takes a lot of small steps to reach to the level of
anything that matters. So, you would like someone to produce a fish
book for a particular state. The person or persons who will do that
are persons who have contributed many reports about the biota of that
state already, not someone who decided to produce a book and set out to
do so without having first accumulated a wealth of knowledge of the
fish fauna and the literature.

Whether a publicaton is worthy science or not is generally judged
somewhat during the review process that precedes publication. Publish
or perish institutions expect their faculty members to become published
in "peer reviewed" journals. Thus, the work has been judged by experts
in the discipline to have some merit or it would not have been accepted
for publication.

In many universities, the "worth" of various faculty member's research
may be judged harshly by persons outside the discipline, but may be
exceedingly valuable and judged as very worthy by persons in the
field. For example, fish systmaticists may be thought of as "button
sorters" by some who work in cell biology. There are those who
consider anyone working in an applied field as not "pure" enough, while
some who work in applied fields wonder-in-the waste of time, effort,
and money by those who seek simply to know things because they are

Wow, why did I get started ............. ?


David L. McNeely, Ph.D., Professor of Biology
Langston University; P.O. Box 1500
Langston, OK 73050; email:
telephone: (405) 466-6025; fax: 405) 466-3307
home page

"Where are we going?" "I don't know, are we there yet?"

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