Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence Toward the Best in the Academy (2010-2011) 22(6)


Copyright 2011, Connolly. Used by permission


I study graduate education--specifically, the formation of future faculty and the professional development programs that help them learn to teach. Over the past seven years, I have interviewed more than 70 doctoral students and postdocs in science, engineering, and math at leading research universities. When I ask my respondents why they initially chose to pursue a doctorate, they usually tell me how much they enjoyed their undergraduate education, which was characterized by powerful learning experiences driven by strong relationships with smart and passionate instructors. My respondents fondly recall professors who stoked students’ curiosity, demonstrated the thrill of scientific discovery, and regularly urged these students to see themselves as scholars as well. Inspired by role-modeling and encouragement, my respondents wanted a job teaching undergraduates and doing research—just like the faculty who inspired them. But to become a professor, they were told, you’ll need a PhD. And off they went to the nation’s most competitive graduate schools, perhaps not fully understanding what lay ahead but expecting nonetheless it would make them too into teacher-scholars who excelled at both research and teaching.

But what many of my study participants really learned during grad school about teaching was how little it is valued. While not surprised to hear that academic success depends on becoming a first-rate researcher, many interviewees were dismayed by messages that being a good researcher is incompatible with being a good teacher--either because there is not enough time for pedagogical training (and, after all, it can be easily learned on the job) or because an obvious interest in teaching is a sign of a failed researcher.