Nikolai Slavov

Research, mentoring, and teaching

March 10, 2024 | 2 Minute Read

Research, mentoring, and teaching are often described and evaluated as distinct activities. Yet, they are strongly interdependent and highly synergistic. Strong research benefits from good mentoring, and good mentoring benefits from strong research. Teaching both creates and benefits from the intellectual environment of creative research.

Research, mentoring and teaching compete for our 24 hours / day, and this competition for time may imply that excelling in one comes at the expense of the other two. This need not be the case. While the time competition creates trade-offs in some cases, I think the synergy exceeds the trade-offs.

Indeed, mentoring scientists to grow into strong researchers is greatly facilitated by collaborating on strong research projects. Important aspects of how we approach research problems, how we choose hypotheses to investigate or relegate are best learned while collaborating with an experienced mentor and being immersed in a joint research project. Without such research experience, mentoring strong researchers is challenging and limiting even for the most dedicated mentors. Similarly, being a great research mentor is an effective way to develop a strong research team, which in turn greatly empowers research. Thus, choosing between great research or great mentorship is a false choice: One can succeed at both or is likely to succeed at neither.

Tesearcheaching is an essential part of mentorship and a powerful way for stimulating new questions and enhancing the communication of research. Good teaching requires intellectual effort to formulate logically coherent presentations of experiments and models, which is the intellectual fabric of research. Practicing these skills on past experiments and models trains us to apply our skills to the greater challenges of ongoing research and unsettled models. Teaching makes us better at communicating research, which is one of the most useful skills for contributing our research to the community and succeeding in the more mundane pursuit of building scientific careers.

This great synergism doesn’t completely eliminate the trade-offs imposed by sharing our time across research, mentoring and teaching. During some periods of our careers, we may emphasize different aspects of scholarships, and this may serve science and our ambitions best. Yet, we should never lose sight of the profound synergism between the different manifestations of scholarship. We should use this synergism to help the growth of our junior colleagues, enhance our research, and share science as broadly as possible.