Not long ago, I got an award for my research accomplishments, and was surprised, when the award was announced in my department, when a number of undergraduate students congratulated me on my "teaching award". The department chair's announcement didn't actually specify what the award was for; I suppose he thought most people would recognize the award by its name, but he wasn't thinking about the undergrads. With no other information than the name of the award and that it was "prestigious" (a bit of kind hyperbole), some undergrads assumed it was a teaching award.
I think the misinterpretation stems in part from the fact that these students know me best in my role as a teacher. I am sure they are all aware that their professors are both researchers and teachers, and I talk about my research in class, but still, my main interaction with these students is as a teacher.
I didn't correct those who congratulated me on my "teaching award", as I was unable to think of a good way to do this without making them think that I value research over teaching or that I didn't appreciate their kind words.
Yes, I know there is a possible sexist element to their assumption that I got a teaching award. Would students assume that a male professor had received a teaching award if the only thing they knew about the award was that it was "prestigious" ? I don't know. I do admit that I sort of wish they knew it was a research award (because it was), but I am taking the congratulations of my students as a compliment. Perhaps they assumed it was a teaching award because they like me as a teacher? I certainly can't complain about that, especially since I am (apparently) so kind and sweet.
I think this anecdote mostly illustrates the fact that undergraduates -- even those at a research university -- see their professors primarily as teachers. It makes sense that they are most aware of what most directly affects their lives, but it is a reminder that there may be a disconnect between how we see ourselves (in my case, as both a research and teacher) and how our students perceive us.
This episode also reminded me how quickly some of us change roles -- emotionally/mentally -- once the academic year is over. If we had been deep in the academic year when I had these interactions with students, I wonder if I would have been as surprised. Given the timing, though, I was, at least in my own mind, deep into research mode. My students reminded me that, even when I think that I am wearing my research hat, I am still their teacher.
1 year ago