From The Science Student Council

Teaching & research: Can you really do both while in graduate school?

It’s challenging, but with proper planning it can be done.

By Natale Sciolino

As developing professionals, we must cultivate a collection of skills that allow us to be both effective researchers and instructors. Between research and numerous other commitments (classes, internships, laboratory rotations, committees, etc.), how are we ever supposed to find time to teach? These competing demands for time force us to develop a hierarchy of the things we value. But where and how do you insert teaching into this hierarchy?

The Values of Teaching

Most of us have realized our interests in psychology because we had an effective teacher that inspired us to develop these interests. As graduate students, we now have the opportunity to contribute to this circle of training through teaching.  It can be gratifying to watch students learn something you taught them. It is also rewarding to know that by teaching, we are helping to continue the field that we value. As researchers in training, we can offer a unique methodological perspective on the concepts presented in the classroom.

Several other practical factors may also motivate those in research trajectories to choose to teach. First, it gives you the opportunity to practice or further develop what you already know. Although this may seem trivial, many great ideas or questions for research inquiry originate from the classroom. Second, the dynamics of the classroom offer immediate gratification. The rewards from teaching can help to sustain the drought in between distant rewards acquired in research. Third, teaching experience increases your marketability in acquiring future awards and even a job post-graduate school. Whether or not you intend to pursue a research career, your ability to teach tells your future employer that you have additional assets that you bring to the table, including a broad expertise, leadership skills, and public speaking ability. For these reasons, it can be worthwhile to explore teaching while in graduate school. However, balancing research and teaching can be tricky.

Balancing Teaching and Research

In planning your graduate career, arrange to teach when you have the time to enjoy teaching and foster an effective experience for your students. This may be during the summers or after major program requirements, such as after qualifying/preliminary examinations. However, if you decide to teach during a busy time and find that you need to juggle research simultaneously, schedule exams and assignments when your research is at a standstill and/or find ways to devote blocks of time to each commitment throughout the week. This protects against getting distracted and losing touch with either commitment. Knowing your research schedule in advance permits you to develop a compatible plan for teaching. Especially while teaching, it is important that you meet with your adviser often to develop research goals and verify that you are meeting their research expectations. This will help to ensure your adviser’s support as you teach.

Resources Available to Teachers in Psychology

Now that you want to teach and have arranged the best time to do so, HOW do you teach? The first place we often turn for advice is our research adviser. You may be fortunate to find that your research adviser is willing to give you comprehensive advice on teaching. However, in the event that this doesn’t happen, don’t fret. Just as you have a research committee to broaden your training, you can also seek out a teaching mentor in your department, a collaborating department, or the education department. Often, fellow graduate students are the best source to orient you to your school’s resources for teaching and to obtain practical advice on teaching. To lighten the load, many departments also permit co-teaching with a fellow graduate student, which is especially helpful when teaching for the first time or when implementing a new class.

Resources at the level of the graduate school, professional societies, and the broader psychology teaching community are also at your fingertips. For example, universities offer teaching portfolio or certificate programs that can be completed while getting your research degree. You also often take a few classes that help you build teaching skills while building lesson plans for a future course you will teach. These formalized experiences help you to carve out the time to build a course and give you supportive resources while doing so. There is even an array of societies specifically geared for teaching psychology, including the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), Association for Psychological Science (APS) Teaching Page, and National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology (NITOP). If you want more one-on-one advice, seek out teaching listservs (PsychTeacher) and blogs (The Teaching Professor) or go to a conference on teaching in psychology. If your desire for knowledge still hasn’t been sated, check out Teaching of Psychology, the official Journal of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

The rewards and values from teaching while in graduate school are countless. Because time is precious in our busy schedules, we have to work hard to make it a priority.


Natale Sciolino is the behavioral neuroscience representative on the APA Science Student Council. She is a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary neuroscience program at the University of Georgia. Her interests include the neurobiological basis of emotion and how lifestyle factors (e.g., stress, exercise) influence emotionality and its manifestation in the brain.