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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. n

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