Teaching: the required catalyst for research to flourish?

Deaton quotes Feynman on how teaching helps research (link: via Abi):

Richard Feynman, in his essay The Dignified Professor, explains why he would never work with Einstein and co. at Princeton, even though the schedule and environment was designed to incubate great thinking.

When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don’t get any ideas for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they’re not getting any ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come.

Nothing happens because there’s not enough real activity and challenge: You’re not in contact with the experimental guys. You don’t have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing!

Here is Jay Parini in his The art of teaching:

I don’t care what they say: it is possible to write and teach at the same time. In fact, I have a hard time writing without teaching.  (Sabbaticals are always disastrous interludes for me, a time when I tend to sink into depression, writing more slowly, thinking a lot less clearly.) Teaching organizes my life, gives a structure to my week, puts before me certain goals: classes to conduct, books to reread, papers to grade, meetings to attend. I move from event to event, having a clear picture in my head of what I must do next. Without the academic calendar in front of me, I feel lost.

I am in a place where teaching is both crucial and a major chunk of job description. I also find that teaching brings discipline to my non-teaching efforts. Occasionally, it also brings a new thought thanks to the smart and inquisitive students. And, I tend to agree with what Feynman and Parini are alluding to (even though I neither have their kind of teaching experience nor their kind of research/writing output — of course, the hope is that someday I may).

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