I have finally found some time to reflect upon a question that has been floating around in my head for quite some time: Is teaching and a tenure-track position what I want to do in the future?
While I certainly haven’t found the answer quite yet, I want to reflect a bit on the process of tenure and why it doesn’t really seem that appealing to me. Incidentally, I watched the movie “Tenure” with Luke Wilson a couple of weeks back which actually proved helpful in a way (I provided the link to the movie’s IMDb page and embedded the review in a spoiler box so that I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you haven’t seen it yet). You don’t have to read the review to follow my thoughts on tenure, but it might prove helpful to you as well.
It may be best to start with why the tenure process does not seem appealing to me. Personally, I think that many schools put way too much emphasis on the importance of research as opposed to teaching. And the thing is, I do like both teaching and research, although I feel more rewarded through my interactions with students than through my research right now. Thus, a school with only a teaching focus would also not be appealing to me. However, my major concern about the tenure process is thatÂ the most important measures for one’s evaluation is the number (and quality) of publications. While I know that it is not entirely “publish or perish”, it still comes close to that. The reason I find this to be a debatable indicator for the assessment of a faculty member is the fact that whether or not a paper is accepted is completely out of the writer’s hands. Add to that the quite hostile environment within Computer Science in terms of peer reviews, and it becomes even more likely that a paper with perfectly valid results may be rejected based on a reviewer’s disagreement with the approach used – even if that approach is valid as well.
Now, I know that peer review is not perfect and that this issue might be alleviated somewhat through Open Access (in fact, I will probably dedicate a future blog post to both issues). However, any hurdle to generating publications aside, the fact remains that the pressure to publish makes it harder to justify spending time on teaching and preparation for teaching rather than research. Thus it is not surprising to me that, in dialog with faculty, one can sometimes hear that someone is “buying out” of teaching by getting more grants. Why is it, then, that we cannot “buy out” of research in the same way? What makes research so much more important in the eyes of a university than the very reason why universities were established in the first place?
I don’t have answers for any of these questions. The only thing I know is that I am both a researcher and a teacher (and a developer, too, just to make things more interesting). In the end, my decision for or against academia will probably be based on whether I can find a place where I can pursue all of the things I love equally without having to sacrifice one for the other.