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Home No. 14: Career Coach: Ideal Teaching Load?

Feb 01

No. 14: Career Coach: Ideal Teaching Load?

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Career Coach:

Ideal Teaching Load?

Reader Question: What is the maximum or ideal teaching load a P.I. can accept and still effectively lead a research effort?

Expert Comments:

The teaching load is dependent on several factors. First, you need to consider the percent effort needed for your grant(s). If high, then the less time you have available to teach.

The percent effort you owe your grant varies due to the type of institution. If you have responsibilities to teach undergraduates as well as graduate students, such as a science department in a School or College of Arts and Sciences, it is usually no more than 25%. Therefore you should be able to participate in teaching during both academic semesters. But, the effort required for teaching will depend on the type of classes you teach (i.e. large lecture-type service classes require a higher level of effort than smaller specialized upper-level classes or seminars).

If you are at a medical school or research institute, the percent effort on grants typically ranges from 50% to even 100%. (It is not recommended that your effort be 100% because then there is no leeway for activities not related to a currently funded grant, such as teaching or working on a new grant!)

In any case, you have to be very careful about teaching commitments. If your effort on grants is above 60%, most likely you have multiple grants to support this level of effort with the concomitant increase in time required to obtain and manage your research program. You should only give a select set of lectures in large service-type classes (such as for medical students or graduate students) and participate in seminars. You can often design a seminar so that it covers the current literature relevant to a research program supported by grants. Thus you can assist with the teaching mission of the department and enhance your research program concurrently.

As a new PI, you should have a frank discussion with your chair about selecting classes that will allow you to contribute to the teaching mission of the department while maintaining the time needed to develop and manage a funded research program

Comments by Gregory F. Ball, Ph.D., Dean of Research and Graduate Education, Johns Hopkins University

The preceding information is of necessity general in nature and may not apply to every case: obtain professional advice for your particular situation.

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Comments (19)
written by Atlas, January 27, 2010
Please be sure all Deans read this, because recent cutbascks in faculty hires have almost DOUBLED the teaching load for many of us. Are the granting agencies aware of this "genteel sabotage" of our research efforts via administration fiat?
written by Anonymous, January 28, 2010
Yes, teaching is necessary. Yes, teaching helps the teacher himself to become a better professional. How much is too much, realistically, is difficult to say. It depends first and foremost on the person in question. Some become overwhelmed with whatever task, while others, most capable, can do everything, and do it very well. Still, make no mistake, ANY teaching is detrimental to research. Real research (if not data collection, then at least thinking) is a 24/7 high intensity and deep immersion task. Any distraction (save maybe skiing) is damaging to this finely woven matter. It is not accidental at all that a disproportionate share of best research is done at institutions fully dedicated to research, like NIH, Natl Labs, Max-Planck Inst., or CNRS.
written by JEF, February 02, 2010
How about a successful faculty member in a medical school with 100% salary support by NIH grants. -How does one report any teaching done on behalf of the department? -Or the increasing committee assignments for institutional planning, faculty recruitment, and program development? Is the institution taking advantage of research funding and risking an audit?
written by BAR, February 02, 2010
Most institutional administrators need to read this. The prevailing administrative attitude at many medical schools is that they support their teaching payroll from grants. The funding agencies need to realize this scam, and someone needs to audit this. For many of us, we are forced to sign effort reports that are basically fraudulent. We are forced to say we had 50% of our time to work on grants, when we had a teaching load that encompassed close to 75% of our time.
written by Anonymous, February 02, 2010
In my world (a residency program) the question has to be turned around to "What is the maximum or ideal amount of research load a PI can accept and still effectively fulfill teaching, precepting and call responsibilities?" Insights would be appreciated.
written by David, February 02, 2010
Successful faculty members should be equally engaged in both teaching and research. Your question, "What is the maximum or ideal teaching load a P.I. can accept and still effectively lead a research effort?", implies that research is more important than teaching, a philosophy with which I do not agree. Others subscribing to this "research-first" philosophy should certainly be free to pursue their own agenda, but they do not deserve to be called "faculty" members at any institution. To do so is a betrayal of the public trust.
written by medfac, February 02, 2010
There are many fine liberal arts and undergraduate institutions where teaching takes precedence over research. At a medical school,however, faculty support their salaries and that of their students/fellows through research grants. Teaching in classrooms is limited to specialty lectures to grad/med students. Of course, we would subscribe to a research-first philosophy. By the way, 'teaching' comes in many forms..not just in a classroom. Med school faculty can be terrific mentors to their postdocs and grad students (and the occasional undergrad) in the lab. Most of graduate education, beyond the first couple of years, happens in the lab under the mentorship of the thesis advisor and graduate program faculty. To declare this a betrayal of public trust is nonsense!
written by HOOP, February 02, 2010
Of greatest importance is that the teaching falls close enough to the area of ones discipline/research. If not it isa loss and is debilitationg.
written by Manny, February 02, 2010
I think the fact that teaching takes precedence over research at liberal arts colleges is irrelevant to this discussion. Those institutions have a different mission. Research universities have a mission that combines teaching AND research. Sometimes we forget that without students (and I am not referring to graduate students), you cannot have a research university. A successful faculty member needs to address both aspects of the job. The parents paying the tuition, and state appropriators in case of public universities, are entitled to expect this.
written by Jake, February 02, 2010
Dean Ball's comment is disingenuous, based as it is on the premise that an individual faculty member has some actual control over teaching participation-- that it is in some sense voluntary. It's lovely if Hopkins operates that way (I wonder if it truly does!) but most Universities do not. Scientists who get research grants are to some extent entrepreneurs. They get to run their small business (labs) only to the extent they can convince venture capitalists (Govt. or foundations) to fund their enterprises. Their landlords (universities or other) take a cut of their revenues. The landlords are addicted to these rakeoffs, but still impose teaching obligations regardless.
written by deriter, February 02, 2010
The teaching required of faculty in most medical schools is relatively small compared to that of a liberal arts college/university. Most medical school faculty can have up to 2 NIH grants and function quite well in the three areas of endeavor: teaching, research, service. The question becomes how well the faculty member will perform in the three areas for the purpose of career advancement.Can the faculty member can sustain an effective research program so that advancement in academic rank can be achieved? Some faculty can do well in one or two areas of endeavor, but the 'triple threat' faculty member is relatively rare and generally does not receive the credit due from the administration.
written by Rick, February 02, 2010
I have had a continuously NIH funded research program for over 20 years. I may not be as efficient as some, but I find the % effort I expend on a grant is about 1.5 to 2 times the percent salary recovered. That is, I am currently funded at 75% effort. In theory this should take ~30 hr/week, but in practice I spend about 60 hours a week on research efforts and 10 hours a week on other duties including teaching, committees etc. Even at this level of effort I feel I can not accomplish all that is required to maintain the programs. Most of my colleagues expend similar effort to maintain their programs, while those who fall off the research wagon draw down resources and maintain a more normal or even reduced work week. Thus, the promise and protections of tenure in higher education, especially in medical schools where teaching is minimized, is jeopardized.
written by someone, February 02, 2010
The university is addicted to ICR and often rakes off over 50% while providing little beyond an office. Here at a RESEARCH university faculty have lost phones and have limited access to paper despite holding federal grants. Is that even legal given ICR agreement?
written by Eric, February 02, 2010
Easy for Johns Hopkins to say, not a simple solution for state schools. Even Hopkins will have problems just hiring new poeple.
written by anonymous, February 03, 2010
Wow. I am wondering if I can even do research under present budgetary and teaching constraints. I've always argued they are complementary and not competing activities. No more!! I'm expected to teach three courses per semester AND seek funding, which requires an active commitment to staying current and publishing, regardless of current luck in the grants market (and some of it is indeed luck, though much skill and dedication is also required to be competitive). Sorry, 80 hours a week is enough, I just can't manage 100 and stay sane and healthy. Good luck recruiting those who think they can!!
written by Gregory Ball, February 07, 2010
In response to comments made online and comments I have received from my colleagues at Hopkins. I wanted to post some additional comments. First, it should be remembered that my advice is being given to a new investigator. I have had comments from senior investigators at other schools at Hopkins and elsewhere pointing that they are called upon to handle full classes even when they have a substantial amount of their effort on research grants. I too have done that over the course of my career. Of course when one is experienced one can handle a full class with a smaller amount of effort than a young investigator can. My advice was for young investigators to work with their chairs to understand the teaching mission of their institution (which is very different if it is an undergraduate college or a medical school) and work out a plan so that they can build their research program and contribute to the excellence of the teaching mission of the school. There are many variations on this theme even within a university. I am Dean of Research for the School of Arts and Sciences at Hopkins were we have high teaching expectations inside and outside the classroom for our faculty. I do not speak for other schools at Hopkins or elsewhere nor was I stating an explicit policy. But all of us working with faculty at institutions that engage in research and teaching have the same goal which is to help investigators fulfill their effort commitments to grants while juggling all the commitments required to be a successful faculty member. How this is done is very different for a young investigator starting out to a senior investigator who is a seasoned teacher. I should have made clear that my advice was for young investigators who often are given a period of time when they first arrive at an institution to grow into their teaching requirements
written by Anonymous, February 08, 2010
Sorry folks..I just have to respond...you want to feel pressured?...how about this...see a full load of patients, teach residents, successfully submit grant app (ideally to NIH), present at a major conference, publish in a significant journal, have a leading role in your prof organization...somehow I forgot something...any more complaints?
written by auditUS, February 09, 2010
The previous comment about phones was dead-on. My primary appointment at a major university medical center in North Texas is in a clinical department, which receives $0 in indirect costs from any grant I bring in. My telephone and office supplies are purchased using proceeds from the clinical activities. This makes the clinicians bitter at the researchers. Meanwhile, the Dean and other administrators use my overhead to pay themselves CEO salaries. Federal government: please audit us soon.
written by Rebeka, February 10, 2010
I am at a mid-size liberal arts college and found myself 100% committed to grant activities. I had to get assurances that the grant activities could be considered part of teaching when it came time to go up for tenure, as I had several undergraduate students involved in the grant-funded research. I was successful in getting those assurances and soon found that my department colleagues as well as others across the campus were supportive and appreciative of the opportunities made available to students. That's the positive statement. The issue that became unwieldy is the management of the grants, the lab, and my research students. Institutional support for grant management and purchasing is critical for someone in this situation (unless there is $ for a lab manager).

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