THE FIRING LINE: Research and teaching overlap

The Firing Line

As I finish preparations for my 8 a.m. class, I find that I have time to respond to the poor reasoning exhibited by Ron Trowbridge in his April 11 column, “Research can be nonsense.” Ron has attempted to paint all of research and teaching with one brush, as though these are distinct endeavors and as though each is one-size-fits-all. Ron has trouble responding to those of us who assert that our research is valuable. He’s always talking about someone else, and always hiding the truth behind misapplied statistics (somewhere down the line from “damn lies”).

At an elite University, it is essential that research and teaching overlap. I can bring the students in my classes new information because it is a requirement of my research mission that I keep at the cutting edge. I can assist with their launch into a variety of careers because I have a lab that houses five to 10 undergraduate assistants, most of whom go on to perform at very high levels. I also run a research Stream through the Freshman Research Initiative that introduces about 30 freshmen a year to research. My Stream gets its own grants and is actually profitable to the University, although not as profitable as my own research lab is.

So as you attempt to conflate writing a vanity book to running a small in-house biotechnology company (see again “damn lies”), please do keep in mind that most of us can easily defend our research and teaching missions, because they turn out to be the same thing. It is wonderful that you “enjoy seeing light bulbs turn on.” But, really sir, our students deserve somewhat better than to have their educational experiences solely defined by in-class lectures and tests. It is not that you are anti-intellectual. You just aren’t intellectual enough for the University of Texas at Austin.

— Andy Ellington,
Fraser professor of biochemistry