The most significant aspect of Mr. Feldon’s findings, says Mr. Connolly, is that they are based on data that track the development of actual research skills instead of those that are self-reported. “They’re looking at demonstrated competency,” he says. “It gets away from these assumptions that teaching is inimical to research. In fact, they’re complementary.”
Mr. Feldon cites two reasons that teaching seems to improve research skills. The first is that a graduate student who teaches, for example, 20 undergraduates how to develop a laboratory study ends up practicing those same skills him or herself. “It’s a straight practice effect,” he says. “You’re getting more opportunities in more situations.”
The second reason is that people who have to explain to someone else how to carry out a task are quicker to develop their own abilities to do that same task.
Teaching’s benefit to research depends on a certain kind of educational experience, Mr. Feldon continues. The educational experience for both instructor and student must involve what he calls “active inquiry,” the investigation of open-ended questions, in which students must figure out which areas deserve exploration and what data to collect.