Why is it so hard for academics to communicate their love of the subject?

If we divide the workforce into two broad categories, those who get out of bed in the morning because they love what they do, and those who are more attracted by the paycheck, I would place academics firmly in the first camp. Yet when asked to teach a class in the field of their expertise, some fail to get students excited about the subject matter. This is curious because obviously the professor likes the material well enough to dedicate his professional career to its study and advancement. So it should be pretty easy to excite students and get them curious about history or economics or whatever. A few possibilities, off the top of my head: 1) The professor hasn't given much thought to what's interesting about the field. If art history is all that you know, you may lose sight of the bigger picture. In a sense this implies that undergraduates are better rounded than their professors. 2) The professor doesn't think it's his job to make the subject matter interesting. Unfortunate but respectable. When the students are engaged in the material grades, satisfaction, enthusiasm and participation are higher. Ultimately if students are going to excel they need a better motivator than paper deadlines and exams. 3) The course they teach is a survey course, rehashing the basics of the field, not the cutting edge of research. As a general rule classes don't incorporate new material. Addendum: Your time is precious; you should consider at least once a week why you choose to spend time learning what you're learning.

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One thought on “Why is it so hard for academics to communicate their love of the subject?

  1. Andy McKenzie

    Interesting question. I think that there are two main explanations:

    1) They are extremely serious about what they study and want to instill that into their students, especially at the intro level. One prediction based on this is that when teaching higher level classes the teacher will show more obvious enthusiasm. Basically a reason for your #3.

    2) They *are* very excited about their subject field, but it is so obvious to them that the stuff they are teaching is classic/important that it doesn’t seem to them to need any additional pumping up.


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