The Life of An Academic: Balancing Lecturing, Research and Community Service.
By Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor
Posted 29th May, 2020
Lecturing in a tertiary institution is not just a job; it is a privilege, responsibility and opportunity. The pride of teaching in a university, imparting knowledge to students is also a duty to perform professionally and a chance to improve upon yourself through research that impacts society. Lecturing in a university calls for a balance between Teaching and Research. It is not so much the scattered number of courses a lecturer teaches, but how he or she is able to generate new knowledge from what he or she teaches. The tertiary institutional structure requires Lecturers to carry out research and make known their findings through academic scholarly publications to progress from one level to another. More often than not, most academics solely focus on lecturing roles and devote less time to research and community service. In this article, I share four important keys to how academics can efficiently balance their lecturing, research and community service roles.
- Clearly define your teaching and research focus
It is important for academics to clearly define their teaching and research focus during their academic careers. Bear in mind that you would not be in academia forever. Therefore, you cannot teach and research on every discipline in your area of study. You would need to carve a niche for yourself in your area of study. One may ask, how do I discover my research interest and focus on it. The follow-up question I would put across is, which area of your field of study are you passionate about and can easily relate to? I started my academic career as a Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) – Ghana in 2009. The then Head of Department assigned me courses to teach – Old Testament and New Testament courses and New Religious Movements. Since it was a new department in the university, I taught courses in these disciplines for some years till we had new lecturers. I relinquished the Old Testament and New Religious Movement courses and focused on the New Testament ones. I made the New Testament and the Mother-tongue translations my research focus. I studied it with passion. This generated a lot of discussion and discovery in class and in my private studies. I pursued it further by writing articles for publication in the area. I must say from the start of my academic career, I decided not to be everywhere to be somewhere. By God’s grace, I have been able to make a name in my field of study because I clearly defined my teaching and research focus. If you are a lecturer and you want to be everywhere, you will end up being nowhere. Find your research interests and carve a niche for yourself in that area.
- Be willing to explore new methods of teaching
As an academic, you need to closely link your teaching to your research. Be willing to explore new methods of teaching through which you discover new knowledge you could research on and write articles. From my personal experience, I taught Introduction to the New Testament, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles and Theology of the New Testament and Greek because the New Testament was written in Greek. My approach of teaching New Testament Greek was different from the traditional way I was taught by my college professor during my Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees. In teaching New Testament Greek, I made my students compare the Greek text with the various Mother-tongue translation of the Bible in different Ghanaian languages – Asante-Twi, Akuapem-Twi, Ga, Dangme, Ewe and Mfantse – which I always carried to class. Sooner than later, I discovered together with my students that in most cases, there were (and there are still) variations in what the Greek texts say and the renderings of the Mother-tongue translations. Through these discoveries, I have been able to write many academic papers and collaborated with my students to carry out further research in Mother-Tongue at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
- Time management
The academic career is a very hectic one which requires a lot of time management to succeed. I remember one of the questions I was asked during a rigorous interview before being appointed as a lecturer at KNUST was; “What is the function of a lecturer?” I answered it nicely though, but with little understanding of the practical application of the answer. Now after more than ten years in the lecturing profession, I can testify that one must be an ardent timekeeper to succeed in academia. I often come across lecturers who have been in a university for several years with no promotion; this centered on the fact that they have no academic publications. Time management could be a factor to be considered here. You need to set time aside your teaching duties to write and publish research papers. You may never get enough holidays or a sabbatical leave to focus on your writing. Anytime a research idea hits you, you would need to immediately put it into writing. If you procrastinate you may never start that paper. It is also key to utilize your time efficiently after school hours, during the night, on weekends and during long vacations when your teaching duties are limited to write your research papers. In my case whilst lecturing in the university, I was also an Ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana which meant additional pastoral roles. I usually wrote most of my papers during the night because my weekends were packed with church activities. But to God be the Glory, I have succeeded in my academic career. I started lecturing with a Master of Theology (MTh) research degree in 2009. My first few articles got me promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer in two years. I was promoted to Associate Professor with my Master’s degree five years later. I was later awarded a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) by KNUST in 2018 and recently a Doctor of Literature degree (D. Litt) Honaris Causa -2020 for my contribution in Biblical Hermeneutics by the International Agency for Standards and Ratings, after following my research track records on ResearchGate, Academia, ORCID and Google Scholar. I have also won several awards including the World Championship Award in Social Sciences in 2018 after which I was admitted as Fellow of the Directorate of Social Sciences; the William Shakespeare Research Award in Religious Studies in 2015 and the Royal Bank Bank-CASS Best Researcher Award – 2014 in the then College of Art and Social Sciences, KNUST. Remember you can make progress in life if you are willing to sacrifice a little.
- Be relevant to your community
Lecturing in a university stands on a tripod – Teaching, Research and Community Service. A lecturer’s teaching and research must culminate in community service. But what is community service? It is the impact that a lecturer’s teaching and research make on the community. A university lecturer does not teach to research; he or she researches to teach. In other words, a lecturer looks for information to prepare his or her teaching materials; and in the process, chance on some problems that need to be solved, and questions that need to be answered. Solving such problems and making the results known to the academic community, advertises the lecturer to take up roles requiring special expertise. I have served KNUST in various capacities. Head of Department for five years, Chairman of the Committee to review New Postgraduate Programmes in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Full Time Professorial Member of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Board, Member of the Sub-Committee of the University Appointments and Promotions Committee of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Adjunct Research Fellow of the Center for Culture and African Studies, KNUST, Editor of the Humanities Section of the Journal of Science and Technology. On the national scene, the Bible Society of Ghana uses findings of my research in the revision of the Mother-tongue translations of the Bible. I have been Chairman of the West African Association of Theological Institutions, (Ghana Zone) for five years and made presentations at various international conferences on Mother-tongue and Bible Translation Hermeneutics issues.
In conclusion, the goal you have set for yourself to succeed in your academic career is not an easy one. If it were that easy, everyone would have been pursuing it. Plan and remain focused.