This mixed methods study adds to a growing international literature on the nature of language teachers' engagement with and in research by examining such engagement in the context of college English teaching in China. Questionnaire responses from 725 college English teachers and interviews with 20 of these teachers indicate that, although they were expected to be research-active, their reported levels of reading and doing research were moderate. An analysis of the factors behind this level of engagement reveals unproductive linear and instrumental conceptions among teachers of the relationship between research knowledge and classroom practice. A perceived discrepancy was also found between teachers' views about the research activity expected of them and the support they received from their institutions to facilitate such work. The uncertainty teachers experienced in relation to research engagement was also shaped by tensions between their views of research and its purpose and the criteria for recognizing research employed by their institutions. This study problematizes the notion of teacher as researcher by highlighting many interactive personal, interpersonal, and institutional factors which shape the extent to which teachers can be research-engaged. The article concludes by suggesting key questions that language teaching organizations wanting to promote teacher research engagement must ask.