The Secret Is Out … Great Researchers Don’t Necessarily Make The Best Teachers (and Vice-Versa)

And so the big secret is out … the best researchers probably don’t make the best teachers.

While many universities put the case that doing excellent research improves teaching, many in academia know that this is probably not the case, and the balancing act of doing research and teaching is a difficult one. Where one often suffers against the other.

A paper has recently been published which concludes that good researchers did not improve the grades of undergraduate students (published in Economics of Education Review) and the most damning finding is that the most highly cited researchers were more likely to be classified as poor teachers.

The research involved a study of thousands of students, and where the students were allocated different teachers for their course. These teachers were analysed for the quality of the publications. Student performance and teacher feedback were then correlated to research output quality. With undergraduate students, the researchers found that there was a negative correlation between the teaching quality against research output quality. Only in postgraduate studies was there an improvement in the student grades, but the students, again, did not generally rate their highly research active teachers as good teachers.

The worry is that in the UK, the Department of Education is planning to give higher scores to academics who have higher qualifications and/or experience for the subject-level teaching excellence framework.


In the UK, universities are often increasingly focused on generating metrics for research, including paper citations, journal publications, and in research income. Promotion opportunities for academics, too, are often focused on research outputs. The motivation to do great teaching is thus often going to become a secondary task, especially as universities will be looking to maximise their research standing.

When took my first external examiner post many years ago, I asked a respected colleague about what I should expect, and he told that that wherever I go, I’ll find the same profile … the great teacher … the poor teacher … the star researcher … the grumbler … the stickler for detail …

For me, I’ve always tried to balance to teaching and research, but when it comes down to it, students are the most important part of university life, and they should always be the first priority. I recently gained a Principal Fellowship of the HEA, and it is something that I am as proud of as any of the papers and research grants. To be a teacher is one of the greatest professions that anyone can be involved with, and I will always love teaching. For early career researchers, and in recruitment, though, the choice is often focused on those with a strong research background. The amazing teacher and researcher is something that is, perhaps, few and far between.


Palali, A., van Elk, R., Bolhaar, J., & Rud, I. (2018). Are good researchers also good teachers? The relationship between research quality and teaching quality. Economics of Education Review, 64, 40–49.

Professor of Cryptography. Serial innovator. Believer in fairness, justice & freedom. EU Citizen. Auld Reekie native. Old World Breaker. New World Creator.

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