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junior faculty jam session #6 – basics of service strategy

Junior faculty jam session #1#2, #3, #4 , and #5

Service is the third, and least loved, aspect of academic work. And no wonder – few people pursue academic careers because of a love of committee work. Rather, a love of endless meetings is probably a sign of an unbalanced and untrustworthy personality!

Still, like death and taxes, you won’t be able to avoid it. The question then, how do you do service effectively as a junior faculty member? In this discussion, I’ll count as “service” work any form of committee or administrative work that is done in a department in addition to teaching or research.  There are a few things to remember:

  • First, internalize the rule that that there is no positive reward for doing service for junior faculty members, with a few very, very rare exceptions.*
  • Second, there is a negative feedback for poor service. Indirectly, your department will work less well. Directly, if you are a flake, you might be denied tenure or have tenured delayed.
  • Third, “satisficing” is the key. In most cases, junior faculty are expected to do basic things and nothing else. In fact, most senior faculty would be quite happy if junior faculty just sat through the meetings and just nodded their heads.
  • Fourth, feel free to ask around about exceptions. For example, liberal arts colleges expect more service, even from the junior level.

Because of points 1, 2, and 3, the basic strategy of service is fairly simple. Do what is required. Do it well but not too well. And exercise strict time controls. You can’t let service take over your teaching and research time.

I’ll now focus on a few important points. First, resist the “do gooder” instinct.” In other words, a lot of young faculty are smart, good people who really want to help out. No problem – just wait till tenure. Then you will have plenty of chances for service. Trust me! Once you cross that important professional threshold, you will have decades of time for making the world a better place.

Second, a lot of people will ask you to do stuff and you seriously need to learn to say “no.” Otherwise, you could easily fill a 40 hour week with committees, review requests, and what not. On the other hand, you need to say yes sometimes. For example, if you are submitting to a journal and people provide reviews, you should reciprocate. Still, the “no” responses should vastly out weigh the “yes” responses.

Third, how do you say “no” without being a jerk? For outsiders, it’s pretty easy. Simply say, “thank you, but I already have a number of obligations and I simply don’t have the time to help out on this important project.” For journals, where you really need to help out, I usually accept one or two papers, but then I say “I can do this but you will have to wait a few months for a response, as I already have a few to review.

For your department chair or dean, you need to be very careful. The way I approach these things is to lay out expectations. For example, with a department chair, I would start with a question – “How many committees is a junior faculty member expected to serve on?” Or, simply remind someone, “I am already on graduate admissions, do you think I have time to be on the dean’s search committee?” Unless you are in a toxic program, you will likely send the message.

Fourth, you probably will do a little service for the academic profession. Usually, doing peer reviews is enough. But you may do an occasional form of service, like “paper of the year award” for your association. In general though, you really shouldn’t do much until your teaching and research portfolios are established.

Finally, let’s talk about what I call “public service.” This means helping out with some group or organization. This is certainly valuable to do and it makes the world better, but you should minimize it while you are not tenured. If you have pangs of guilt, then you should choose one cause that you really, really care about and then you can safely say no to all other requests.

*In some extremely rare cases, a dean may reward a faculty member with a promotion if they take on some administrative work. But this only happens at very small colleges that have few faculty members. It’s rare, so don’t expect this.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 27, 2019 at 12:14 am

Posted in uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Agree, Fabio
    , with the basics of your argument and position. Two small observations. In some schools and universities, that balance with service and teaching is shifting, with new forms of engagement that do have visibility. ‘Service’ can also be a way to access useful research sites and data. So, overall, I agree with you but would argue for a bit of nuance and some creative coupling of activities.

    Like

    Marc Ventresca

    September 3, 2019 at 2:05 am


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