Early Career Academics and their Experiences of linking Research and Teaching: a collaborative UK/Canadian project

Author/Producer Dr Lisa Lucas and Nancy Turner / ESCalate
Published in ESCalate news (Autumn 2007)
Date Published 23 October 2007
Pages 4


A project report from one of our October 2005 Development Grant partners


Dr Lisa Lucas is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. She is author of The Research Game in Academic Life published by SRHE/McGraw Hill in 2006, which looks at the impacts of the Research Assessment Exercise on university departments and academic work. She has also been researching extensively in the area of linking research and teaching within academic work focusing on issues of academic identity and departmental and disciplinary cultures.

Nancy Turner is the Director of Professional Development at the University of the Arts, London. She has been involved in research projects investigating international comparisons of student experiences of research and new lecturers’ perceptions of research and teaching as part of their academic role. As a key part of her work, Nancy oversees the delivery of Postgraduate Programmes in Teaching and Learning.


The significance of the link between research and teaching has become increasingly important within debates on higher education in the UK, Canada, Australia and many other western countries. The Higher Education Research Forum, chaired by Sir Graeme Davies, has highlighted the need for both research intensive and non-research intensive institutions to maximise the potential of students learning about research ‘ranging from vicarious exposure to the current research of their teachers through to the immediate impact of being researchers’ (HERF, 2004).

There is clear evidence that funding and evaluation policies in the UK and elsewhere have served to fragment academic work and differentiate between ‘researchers’ and ‘teachers’ whilst undermining the teaching work being done as significantly less important than research (McNay, 1997; McNay, 2003; Lucas, 2006; Sikes, 2006; Young, 2006). There is a growing body of literature that explores issues of academic identity development and academic work life balance issues (Robertson and Bond, 2003, Colbeck, 1998, Deem and Lucas, 2007). Early career academics in particular may struggle with the tension between the demands of teaching and of research so this is an important group to look at in order to better understand the ways in which further integration of these roles can develop. It is also feasible that early career academics will bring innovatory and exciting ideas to the development of teaching and research links, which may help to rejuvenate practices within departments.

There is very little known about the extent to which, and the ways that, UK Advanced Certificate/Diploma programmes for teaching in higher education encourage academics to focus on the integration of their research and teaching roles, and how best to implement and maximise the potential of their research experience within the curriculum. Particularly for early career academics, this is perhaps an important forum for exploring this issue and the possibilities for integrating their research and teaching experience.

This article reports on an ESCalate funded international collaborative UK/Canadian project, which explores the experiences of early career academics in three different universities in terms of their experiences of teaching and research and possibilities for integrating these activities. The primary focus is with the experiences of these early career academics in terms of their conceptions and experiences of their research and teaching roles, their participation in the teaching and learning programmes and their developing ideas around the possible way in which their research and teaching are linked in the context of their department and disciplinary cultures. The key aims of the project were to:
  • explore the ways in which new academics perceive the teaching and research relationship and the extent to which they can articulate and demonstrate ways in which they link these two activities within their work;
  • investigate the possibilities that new lecturers have to explore the link through their participation in institutional Teaching and Learning programmes in the UK and Canada and to gather their ideas for how they could be better supported in this through these programmes;
  • develop materials and activities, and collect best practice examples, that will allow new academics to explore the link between research and teaching in their work that can be utilised within institutional Teaching and Learning programmes in the UK, Canada and elsewhere. The user potential of these materials will be enhanced by developing online access.

Project Design and Implementation

The project design began with a review of nine Teaching and Learning programmes being run in universities in the UK and Canada in order to find out the extent to which they directly address linking research and teaching. This was followed by semi-structured interviews with a small group of early career academics from a variety of disciplines at the three case study institutions to explore their existing conceptions of the link between teaching and research and strategies for the integration of teaching and research. Finally running workshops with 10-15 early career academic staff at each of the three institutions to pilot and evaluate the materials, activities, and examples of best practice.

Key Themes from Interviews and Workshops

Utilising a communities of practice model (Wenger, 2000), the interview data was explored in relation to the enculturation of early career academics within communities of practice, their negotiation of boundaries and developing academic identities utilised in previous research (Lucas, 2007). This approach fits with a desire to move to a more socially situated understanding of the development of conceptions of teaching and of research that take into account the socio-cultural and also the socio-political context of these within institutions (Akerlind, 2003; Pickering 2006; Trowler & Wareham, 2007; Deem & Lucas, forthcoming).

  • Backgrounds of participants: there was immense variety in the backgrounds of participants with a majority entering through a traditional academic route of completing a first degree, Masters, PhD and entering research posts before taking up a lectureship. Interesting perspectives were also gleaned from academics entering from professional disciplines, where their professional roles had shaped their early careers and often still continued to be part of their working lives.
  • Teaching, Research and Administrative Roles: this was also highly varied with some members of staff feeling fairly overwhelmed with teaching roles and others being given fairly light teaching loads and expected to concentrate on their research.

“I spent 75% of my time doing teaching and even more, probably the two previous terms it was even more… certainly in the first term it was a real struggle to get any research done really, and it felt like I was losing touch with a research project that I was involved with. We had a research assistant and so it sort of felt like I was ending up leaving it to her and my colleague, so it’s hard trying to do research at the same time isn’t it really?” (Marie[1], Law)

The perceptions of these varying roles and the impact this experience had on their identity was quite varied.

“I mean everybody in this department knows that I view myself as a researcher first and the rest of it is what I do to pay the bills.” (Jim, Health Sciences)

  • Experiences on Teaching and Learning Programmes: mixed positive and negative responses on these programmes were reported, in keeping with other research studies (Kahn et al, 2006; Prosser et al, 2006). Few programmes showed evidence of emphasis on linking research and teaching.

“Yes, I would say that when I first started teaching my style was more – I would kind of write a long script and then agonise over kind of remembering it and saying it as though I wasn’t reading it…but I think that (participation in the teaching and learning programme) has kind of suggested ways that it can be more interactive, for example, brainstorming at the beginning… and then student feedback has told me “I really enjoyed that bit and it woke me up”. (Rachel, Health Sciences)

  • Development of ideas of linking teaching and research: there was significant endorsement of the idea of linking teaching and research but the ways in which it was conceived varied significantly among participants. The link was mostly conceived as the use of content and did not extend to process of research. It was also perceived as being more difficult to achieve at the undergraduate level and easier with postgraduate provision.
“…that seems to me to be an ideal way of, actually teaching and research should be interconnected…we shouldn’t have this dry set of things we’re trying to teach students which isn’t connected to what we are coming across when we’re doing our research…” (Marie, Law)
  • Perceptions of Departmental and Disciplinary Cultures: this was highly influential to the experiences of the participants and to their developing academic roles and identities. Many reported that the cultures in which they worked were not conducive to development and innovation in teaching, however this was not always the case.
“You know having a meeting with your mentor and discussing issues as they come up, that’s helpful, you know, having a mentor critique you, that’s great.” (Jim, Health Sciences)

Ways Forward

Workshop materials that were developed as part of the project are available on our ESCalate project website. These materials are freely available to be used and modified/adapted for use within Institutional Teaching and Learning programmes. A workshop will also be run for staff involved in delivering Teaching and Learning Programmes to share experiences and to explore best practice for enabling academics to better integrate their research and teaching work. Further details on the project and the upcoming workshop can be found on our website http://escalate.ac.uk/1979


Akerlind, G. S. (2003) Growing and Developing as a University Teacher: variation in meaning, Studies in Higher Education, 28 (4), 375-390

Brew, A. (2006) Research and Teaching: beyond the divide, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Colbeck, C. (1998) Merging in a Seamless Blend - how faculty integrate teaching and research, Journal of Higher Education, 69:6.

Deem, R. and Lucas, L. (2007) Research and Teaching Cultures in two contrasting UK policy locations: academic life in Education departments in five English and Scottish universities, Higher Education 54: 115-133

Higher Education Research Forum, DFES, accessed at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/hegateway/hereform/index.cfm

Lucas, L. (2006) The Research Game in Academic Life, Maidenhead: SRHE/Open University Press.

Lucas, L. (2007) Research and Teaching Work within University Education Departments: fragmentation or integration? Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31 (1): 17-29.

McNay, I. (1997). The Impact of the 1992 Research Assessment Exercise on Individual and Institutional Behaviour in English Higher Education. Chelmsford, Anglia Polytechnic University.

McNay, I. (2003). "Assessing the Assessment: an analysis of the UK Research Assessment Exercise, 2001, and its outcomes, with special reference to research in education." Science and Public Policy 30(1): 1-8.

Pickering, A. (2006) Learning about university teaching: reflections on a research study investigating influences for change, Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 3: 319-335

Prosser, M., Rickinson, M., Bence, V., Hanbury, A., Kulej, M. (2006) Formative Evaluations of Accredited Programmes. Final Report. Higher Education Academy

Robertson, J. & Bond, C. (2003) The Research/Teaching Relation: variation in communities of inquiry, SRHE Annual Conference, Royal Holloway, University of London, 16-18 December 2003

Sikes, P. (2006) Working in a 'new' university: in the shadow of the Research Assessment Exercise? Studies in Higher Education 31(5): 555-568

Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, Organization 7(2): 225-246

Young, P. (2006) Out of balance: lecturers' perceptions of differential status and rewards in relation to teaching and research, Teaching in Higher Education 11(2): 191-202

[1] Marie and all other names are pseudonyms