when to say yes and no in academia
Last we discussed how to say no. But there remains the question, what should you say no to? It helps to start with a baseline – what should ALL academics do?
- Say yes to teaching at least one service course a year. Why? Most programs survive on enrollments. Unless you are a star faculty who can opt out, most people will like you if you reliably do some basic teaching.
- Say yes to serving on one “heavy” committee per year. In most programs, this includes grad admissions, recruitment/evaluation, and the governing committee of your program. In teaching intensive, there are various undergrad affairs that require attention.
- The tenured should say “yes” to one committee outside your program. For example, for multiple years, I served on our seed grant committee at IU. For two years, I did NSF reviews.
If you say yes to these requests, then you have earned the right to turn down other requests. But these are minimal. Here are the requests that you should say to *occassionally*:
- Journal/book manuscript reviews. My rule is simple, I say “yes” until I have three in the hopper. Then people have to wait or go elsewhere. By saying yes, you ensure that you are giving back, you help with quality control, and you learn new research.
- Requests for research collaboration. You only have so many hours a day, but you can say yes to really strong projects or people who have a good track record.
- Dissertation committees. Most people can handle a few students and to be honest, being a third or fourth reader requires little work.
- Fancy committees outside the university for non-profits or the profession.
Notice that each of these recommendations isn’t about the activity itself. It’s simply a time budget. In my experience, for example, I simply can’t do a good job reviewing if I have more than one or two papers on my desk. Either I write bad reviews or I slow down a lot. Either way, it doesn’t help anyone.
So what should you avoid in most cases?
- Remedial work with students. Most colleges have basic support for writing and math. It is your job to teach college level material. Unless your job is in the writing program, it is not your job to teach basic writing, though you can certainly offer your opinions.
- Personal therapy. This is really tough. But once again, in many cases, you probably aren’t qualified to give advice on issues like drug problems or sexual assault. Be compassionate but get them to the person who is qualified to help.
- Fluff committees. These are hard to define in the abstract. But there are committees people set up just so they can sound off, not to accomplish anything of substance. In general, the core of the university is teaching, research, and fund raising. If it isn’t one of those, you should be careful.
- Pre-tenure consulting: Unless they are paying serious cash, you should probably say no. If they pay, make sure the time commitment is limited.
- Toxic people. Even if the activity has merit, toxic people can make the experience miserable and pull you down. Avoid at all costs.
To summarize: You should always be a good citizen. Beyond that, budget for things that are central for academic work. Beyond that, just say no.