Teaching vs Research

For the academic year 2011-12, I worked as a Lecturer in one of the renowned colleges in Bangalore. After the academic year was complete, I took a short break and started working in a research organisation since September 2012. Less than a year there and less than a year here doesn’t make me an expert. So, why this effort to compare the two? Can they be compared? Or will I be partial towards the current one as it still pays my bills? Whatever may be the questions, I guess, experiences are worth sharing. So here comes the disclaimer: this is purely an expression of my experiences, both good and bad, and no way reflect what others might have experienced in the same space.

At 28, when you first start working (after years and years of formal and informal education), you are over-inspired. You want to change the world or rather make it a better place to live in. But when I got my first job, it wasn’t out of choice. Rather, it was more of a comfort zone for me. I knew my colleagues, knew the physical space pretty well and was already planning how it will be when I spend years and years here. So, in short, nothing could go wrong. Well, nothing actually did go wrong but somehow, my lens changed. The educational institution, where I had spent 5 years as a student, was a completely different place for an employee. Of course, it helped that people-on-campus remember you as a student but what goes on beyond those staff-room doors is indeed worth experiencing. There is a sense of family, of togetherness, of understanding, critique and appreciation.

When you step out, there is a sense of authority by simply being in a saree and standing on the other side of the classroom. Students expect you to enlighten them, help them get a degree and maybe a new perspective, pose for photographs on special occasions and be their friend. Students also expect easy-to-understand and to-the-point hand-written notes, marked paragraphs from “prescribed” textbooks and “important questions for exams”. So how does one change the world and make it better when the modes are still the same? When I looked around for answers, some senior lecturers said, “Wait, till you have established some credibility and authority. Then you can experiment. Right now, just work with the existing system!” So you try to make small changes—an exciting assignment, a different way of looking at things, asking questions. But how do you grab an attention of a student who is merely in the room for attendance and busy writing their practical records for a different subject? Holidays, nice long ones, especially in the summer, was something I kept looking forward to. No more getting up before dawn and leaving home while everyone was still asleep, no more wearing saree all 5 days and dragging myself to work on Saturdays, no more yelling at students and correcting assignments. And, all the time in the world to figure out how I can tackle my problems.

But the long break also brought some new thoughts. Do I really want to teach? Do I really want to do this? Is this why I studied what I studied? And, how am I making the world a better place to live in? Clearly didn’t see any change in the mind-sets of the young lot I dealt with! I asked these questions to my seniors again and they said, “Apart from one-two of them, most of them often demotivate you to continue teaching!” Getting out of one’s comfort zone is often not easy. It needs soul-searching and enough conviction that something better is really out there and you won’t be left swimming in the ocean alone. So, I started testing the field. Sent my resumes to a few places. Got a couple of calls. Almost joined another educational institution but for research work. Finally, joined where I am right now.

So, what did this transition mean? No more working on Saturdays, no more month-long holidays, no more wearing saree every day to work, no more running from one class to another (however, I did lose some weight with all the running 🙂 ). Yes to working on critical issues that matter. Yes to working on my own ideas, give it a shape with numbers and other indicators, pray to get the funding and if the funding comes, start implementing the idea, realising that ideas are different from field realities, consolidate my report, present a paper based on it and by the end of it, get involved with some other project in a similar manner. It also gave the flexibility to develop other skills and travel. There is also a sense of family here, but in a completely different sense. The family is small and often the personal family and professional family interact with each other over dinners, get-togethers and weekend retreats.

So, do I see myself working here for years and years to come? Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t even think about it. Often, when I am staring at my screen in the hot afternoon, I close my eyes and miss my late-afternoon, post-work siestas. What makes me open my eyes and start working again—the thought of wearing saree every day!

                                                                             Puja Minni
Research Associate

[Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of CBPS.]

0 thoughts on “Teaching vs Research

  1. pankaj

    the article is very well written especially the feeling “at 28, when you first start working (after years and years of formal and informal education), you are over-inspired. You want to change the world or rather make it a better place to live in. “. It seems that same dilemma is faced by people once they complete their post-graduation. But there are certain institutions coming up which encourage research apart from teaching.

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