A collaborator visits

This week, I have been hosting my collaborator Leila Schneps here at Bates. The main pretext was to have her give our annual Sampson lecture. This lecture series was started to honor the late Richard W. Sampson, who taught at the Bates math department for 38 years. Leila gave an excellent talk related to her recent book Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom. This provided me with a great opportunity to get my students in my liberal arts math class to see how math has some real world applications (although I’m not sure they believe me yet). But of course, when you are able to fly your collaborator in from France, you also try to finish writing that paper that you’ve been working on for a year.

I have traveled to conferences, workshops, and to collaborate, but this is the first time I have hosted someone for a week, and it’s been a very different experience. Mainly, for all of those other collaboration experiences, I did not have to teach. I was either on sabbatical, on break, or found subs for my classes. I have no idea how people juggle these things, but preparing for and teaching a class while also trying to do math the rest of the day has proven very challenging. The way I do this when I’m on my own is by setting aside some time every week for my research (although as I have mentioned before, this usually falls apart by the end of the semester). But I want to maximize the time with my collaborator, and really really want to finish proving something, and that means I have no time to grade, very little time to prepare for lecture, and I end up doing lots of things late at night because that’s when we finish working. I basically told my students that office hours were non-existent this week. They know it’s because I’m working on math, and are very respectful of that, but I still feel like they are not being taken care of enough.

However, it has been really exciting to be working on math so much. Usually, like I said, teaching and taking care of my students takes priority over everything. I end up working on research maybe one day a week, and sometimes I get inspired on the weekends (that is, if I don’t have too much grading to do). But this level of mathiness has not been accomplished within my own territory, well, ever. So I’m excited to see if I can try to keep some of this momentum for the rest of the semester.

Anyway, this is probably a dilemma for the rest of my career. Balancing teaching and research is very difficult, and I’m not sure people have a good recipe for it (although I’ve heard lots of advice, like: don’t watch TV,  get someone to clean your house, always teach the same thing, don’t have friends…). But I pose the question to you, dear readers. How do you balance teaching and research without feeling like you’re always just taking turns sacrificing one for the other?  Is there a better way to think about this problem? Please share any thoughts, advice, or experiences, in the comments section below.

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4 Responses to A collaborator visits

  1. Avatar Daniel says:

    Choose what you do best or enjoy best and give it more time. On what you are not very good at, there always will be someone far better than you are.

    Especially if you are not a very good teacher (I am not a good one), by stopping teaching, I saved a lot of time for students and they had the opportunity to listen to very good teachers who did the job far better than I could.

    • Avatar Adriana Salerno says:

      That could work in theory, but many of us in the US don’t have the luxury of not teaching (and I quite enjoy teaching, personally) and have high research expectations (I quite enjoy research too). Also, I think I am good at both, and I know there are people far better than me at both, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do them, in my opinion. Although, it is possible that to do high quality work in either teaching or research, one needs to focus on only one as you point out. In my case, focusing on one at a time seems to be working the best.

  2. Avatar Ana Paula Chaves says:

    Hi there Adriana!
    First of all, I want to congratulate you for your blog! To me, also a women and a recent PhD, it’s like a “guide” and really helps a lot. 🙂
    Unfortunately, my lack of experience don’t allow me to discuss much, but I’d like to encourage those who can! I also have this dilema about research x teaching, and so far I couldn’t found my recipe…

  3. Avatar K. K. says:

    You are actually describing in your post exactly the conclusion I’ve come to in just a few more years out from my PhD. Balance doesn’t look the same all the time. Sometimes you clear all the meetings and office hours to make time for a visitor. Sometimes you get excited about doing something new in a class and research gets downsized for a while. Other times, you are chairing a big committee and have to let both research and teaching go on autopilot. But keep cycling around. That’s the joy of an academic job, to me at least. It’s never boring or stagnant.

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