Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for June, 2016

In the Service of Good

Conference_de_londresA few months ago, I had a post about how to manage your service. I titled it, with tongue in cheek, “How to get (the most) out of service.” I had a pretty hard push back on Facebook from a number of academic friends advocating for service – not getting out of it.

So, first I want to clarify some things. I agree that doing service is important, and when I advocate “mildly sucking” I am assuming that you are an over-achieving goody-goody, like me, and you put a lot of effort into everything. When I say mildly suck, I mean decide how much time you should spend and only spend that time on your service – especially if it is heinous. Do not over do it, because there are probably other things you should be doing with that time, and ask for help if you need it! Although that might not always work, either. We always talk about work-life balance, but we sometimes forget about “work-work balance.” This is an important part of any job, but especially one as free as an academic position.

One of my friends, has allowed me to paste in her comments (edited) advocating for service and doing it well. Enjoy!

  1. I disagree with academia’s disdain of service: because most of it (not all) is necessary for the smooth functioning of the university beyond what we (at R1s) see as our prime function. I have served on many more hiring committees than appropriate pre-tenure, for example, because I think that bringing in strong colleagues is one of the most important things that I can do for the university. Conversely, I never fill out my university’s annual “volunteer for committees” survey because the parking committee (as one egregious example) is not a good use of my time.

  2. I was overburdened with service pre-tenure. The most time-consuming service was the advisory role that I had for my last two pre-tenure years; I was not able to obtain assistance in a way that alleviated the burden until (bluntly) external people pointed out that it was too much. It was then split among multiple people and it’s been much more manageable since. In retrospect, I would have tried to make that argument more forcefully and directly to the chair earlier; I tried to be more subtle and it didn’t work. I think being straightforward would have been significantly more effective.

  3. I recognize that service is neither appreciated nor rewarded (and this is clearly expressed internally as well, in terms of merit and recognition). But: as a non-research-superstar at big-state-U, it allows me to make a positive contribution to our largely first-generation, heavily non-traditional student population. That is a more powerful impact (bluntly, again) than anything I do elsewhere is likely to have.

  4. I find that colleagues who value service often come from at least one non-privileged STEM community (gender and/or sexual identity, class, race) and I think this complicates discussions of “service doesn’t matter!” I think most academics aren’t unaware of the lack of value placed on service by institutions; but there may be significant personal importance in service for many people. I think that it is ok to make that tradeoff (especially post-tenure), as long as the reward structures are clearly understood.

  5. More germane to womanofscience’s post: asking for relief (directly or indirectly through my department) was not effective in lightening my service load; getting external comments that I was overburdened did.

  6. The good-little-girl is strong in me in that I won’t let things that I think are important not get done. I’ve found that suggesting (wisely) other people to help contribute has been another effective strategy to reduce service burdens. I also don’t do “unimportant” service (see above).

  7. I would like discussions of service to be more nuanced than “don’t do it!” I think for pre-tenure people, being graceful (and straightforward! and prompt!) about accepting and declining service, being passionate about the service that you choose, and (in a functioning environment, in which I am lucky to work) finding other people who can contribute are the best strategies towards making service meaningful and valuable without overburdening. But I would like academia to be more thoughtful about recognizing and rewarding those aspects of our multifaceted job that have less quantifiable impact.

So, what do you think? I tend to agree that service is the way to have things work smoothly and can have a big impact on your students. If you were to give true, important advice to a young faculty member (not the flippant advice of don’t do it), what would you say? Comment or post here. To get an email every time I post, click the “Follow” button.

End of Sabbatical

cycling_sabbatical_by_katandkitty-d5eakjxOh my! It has been so long since I blogged. Sorry about that. The last month was full of finishing: finishing up school, finishing up sabbatical, finishing up our visit, saying goodbye to new friends, and packing. It didn’t leave a lot of time for blogging.

Although I just got back from sabbatical (well, sort of, I’m heading off to give a talk in Europe this week), I have been thinking about the sabbatical and what I wanted to work on and what I actually got done.

First, I would have to say that I didn’t have a great set of goals for my sabbatical. It was vague and not well-formulated. The next time I have the opportunity to go on sabbatical, I want to have a specific plan for what I want to accomplish. I might even take the first week and just make a big to-do list and make a big poster to hang over my office and check each week that I am making progress.

Second, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Progress was made on a lot of things, but only a few things were completed. I worked on completing analysis and writing of a couple papers. On one, the data is complete, but I struck up a collaboration with a theorist, and that is taking some time, but it is out of my hands a bit. Sometimes you wait to make a better paper, but it means waiting on submitting. Another one needed a new analysis.

Third, I worked on non-science stuff. I did a better job of posting here, through most of my sabbatical, and started working on a couple books. One is on mentoring – and is with a few other people. Another is a murder mystery. I actually made a lot of progress on the mystery novel, so I feel good about that, but I certainly don’t have a complete draft of a novel. That might be something that makes progress for years and years, but doesn’t come out for a long, long time.

Fourth, I started a new endeavor. Part of being away really made me appreciate and fond of my colleagues and friends back at home. A bunch of us got together, and using my newly acquired leadership skills, we started a large-scale, multi-PI endeavor that we hope will bloom into a full-fledged center (with funding) over the next 5 years. I am very excited about this, and we even got some seed funding!

Fifth, I didn’t want my lab to explode, implode, or any other kind of -plode. Overall, I would say that was successful. There were definitely inter-personal issues, some of which I was addressing and already correcting upon my return, but mostly people learned, worked, and made progress. The long-term people in the lab are on their ways to first publications. I am happy with the progress, and looking forward to being able to make decisions daily to help people progress faster, as opposed to just weekly or monthly.

Lessons learned: So many! I was worried that moving my family would be the hardest part, and I focused on that. My focus made that part go smoothly, but I wish I had spent a little more time focusing on a plan for the time I was there and setting some specific goals for myself. Also, I  don’t think anyone wants to be away for 6 months again. It was too long. We are probably going to keep it to 3 months next time.

What about you? Comments on recent sabbaticals or sabbaticals in preparation? To get an email every time I post, push the follow button.

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