The Research—Teaching Spectrum

Think about type of professor you want to be. Now, answer quickly: research or teaching?

Becoming a psychology professor requires careful consideration of how much you want to emphasize research and teaching in your career. Colleges and universities can all be placed somewhere on a spectrum emphasizing research versus teaching, and they hire professors who are a good match for that placement (see previous post on professors’ work). To be that hire, you must place yourself on the research—teaching spectrum so that you know how to build your qualifications, select positions to apply for, and convey your qualification to search committees.

What Type are You?

Take a moment to complete the teaching—research self-assessment below (link to full instructions). For each row, select the characteristic on the “research-intensive” or “teaching-intensive” side that best fits your interests and qualifications. If you truly do not fall on one side, select “both.” That is a legitimate answer too.

When you are done, follow the instructions for scoring. Take the results serious but not literally. This is not the MMPI.

Institutional self-assessment

Matching Your Type to Institution Type

The self-assessment is designed to get you thinking about how to match your interests with different types of institutions. Answers on the first two rows are the most important. Doctoral universities will be the best fit for professors who want to focus on research and the mentoring of graduate students above all else. Those who want to focus exclusively on teaching undergraduates are a good fit for community colleges, as well as some baccalaureate colleges.

Here is the advice that aspiring professors rarely hear: You can be both teaching- and research-focused. Master’s universities are a great fit for people with a lot of “both” answers. Professors at master’s universities have the best of both worlds because they combine teaching and research, as well as graduate and undergraduate education.

Many baccalaureate colleges will also be a good fit for people interested in both teaching and research. At baccalaureate colleges, teaching undergraduates is always the priority, but there is an emphasis on giving those students opportunities to be involved in research. Moreover, at some elite baccalaureate colleges, undergraduate teaching must be excellent, but research expectations rival those at doctoral universities.

Although they are less diagnostic, the next three rows are helpful too. Doctoral universities tend to be large, competitive, and prestigious on a national level. They hire the world’s best scholars within a narrow field. Community colleges and baccalaureate colleges are typically smaller and more supportive – reputations are made locally, not internationally. Once again, master’s universities fall in the middle.

Final Message

Remember, every institution hires psychology professors that fall at a specific point on the research—teaching spectrum. Your job is to find the one that best fits who you want to be as a psychology professor.


Becoming a Psychology Professor

Author: Guy Boysen

Guy A. Boysen is an Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. He received his Bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN and his PhD from Iowa State University in Ames, IA. He is the author of "Becoming a Psychology Professor: Your Guide to Landing the Right Academic Job." @guyboysen

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