Thursday, March 18, 2010

Efficiency and your committee work

Now that we've been exploring committees and have had some discussion about the benefits and struggles of committee work, it might be interesting to explore how to maintain your committee work and remain efficient. There are a lot of great resources for navigating academic life for faculty members. While exploring some of these, I found this advice and thought it might be useful to pass some items on.

There are some good tips from the University of California, Fullerton web site:
And more advice from Ms. Mentor's recent book via Tomorrow's Professor-blog:

The advice primarily centers around several key constructs when in a committee meeting, which ties nicely to communication research on group processes:
- Try to identify finite tasks with realistic details when sitting on committees
- Help the committee stay focused on the tasks/work at hand, don't contribute to extremely tangential directions that lead one to leave the hour-long meeting bemoaning, "we didn't do anything!"
- Contribute: adding your voice seems to allow more buy-in and can add great input for those in the committee
- Do the work when you've agreed to serve on a committee, doing this ahead of time can help the meetings stay on track, be productive, and can make a new/introverted faculty member more likely to speak up in meetings

There was also advice centered on the elusive balance we all seek in our jobs and lives when it comes to Service work in the university:
- Set aside specific reading/writing/researching times in your day planner and protect those times
- Ask for advice from chairs and senior professors
- Say "no" when you know you don't have the knowledge to serve on a committee or when you know you cannot appropriate the proper amount of time
- Limit the number of committees on which you serve (one site suggested ONE standing committee and ONE other committee and some recommend taking a total break from committees to rejuvenate yourself as needed).

After reading this advice, I can see where a lot of my own heavy load has been facilitated by my desire to please those around me, to be involved on campus, and to not want to appear unwilling or uncooperative. All those feelings have done, though, is burden me with a heavy service load which threatens my energy level in all aspects of my work and can even lead to a sense of burnout. While I don't plan on avoiding committee work, I do hope to become a more positive, contributing member of the committees I'm on and to work hard to balance my own work load--because after all, if I don't protect my time, who else will?

A few other references to consider:
Boice, R. (1992). The new faculty member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Magnan, R. & Schoenfeld, A. C. (1994). Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure, 2nd edition. Atwood Publications.
Toth, E. (2008). Ms. Mentor's New and Ever More Impeccable Advice for Women and Men in Academia. University of Pennsylvania Press.
And a personal read that I enjoy to help me avoid becoming overwhelmed,
Kasl, C. (2005). If the Buddha got stuck. Penguin.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The reward and demographics of Service

To briefly update, I want to thank folks for all of the great e-mailed comments on the blog! Please feel free to add your comments to the blog itself for all to read. I'm including a few comments that were sent my way via email:

- The reward for solid committee work is "more committee work" AND another comment received, "once you are seen as productive on committees you're getting 'rewarded' by being on more committees" {seems like a common consensus!}

- Several readers commented on the demographics of committees and one noted an interest in national and cultural backgrounds of the committee members as an interesting avenue to explore. I agree! In fact, there is some research in this area--

It has been noted that those "unique" from the dominant culture or background of the institution disproportionately serve on committees in higher education [see Aguirre, A. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 27(6). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass OR/AND Kelly Ward's 2003 article, Faculty service roles and the scholarship of engagement found at ]. Often, these unique faculty members are called on to represent his or her sex or ethnicity in organizational affairs, according to Ward (2003). One could see this as highly negative tokenism, or as an opportunity (standpoint theory) for those with less power to become more enmeshed in the dominant culture's world (and therefore gain more power, have a greater voice, etc.). It is intriguing.

Such research also showed rank relates to committee/service load. Those with tenure or with longer administrative time appear to feel more confident saying "no" or self-ascribing roles in various campus committees. Those further along in their careers, with higher rank, serve on notably less committees. So, it is quite common for those new to the professoriate, like myself, to end up struggling with committee loads simply based on rank. Adding other demographic contributing factors may compound the service load.

This hidden curriculum to faculty life is one I do not shoulder with distaste, however. I value most of the committees and the solid work tackled by busy people for positive change in our institution. It does seem though that this facet of faculty life could lead to problems with work/life balance as one proceeds along the tenure track.

Thanks again for the thoughts!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Service: who participates?

This entry continues the topic of Committees/Service work in the university.

After talking to several colleagues, I realized that I carry a very heavy service load compared to others in my cohort, triple some of the others. I've been appointed to a LOT of committees by my Dean or other administrators at work and have found them to be a great way to accomplish a few key issues for new/junior faculty members:
1. I was able to learn a lot about the inner workings of my institution
2. I met many people quickly (and they were able to know/recognize me much earlier than my counterparts without committee loads)
3. My voice mattered in shaping the direction of the university which fostered a deeper connection to the university my first couple of years
4. I began to recognize political undercurrents and was better prepared to navigate them
5. My image on campus seemed to be crafted as one willing to work
But there have been drawbacks as well:
1. Time--I have at least 3 committee meetings each week and some weeks there are as many as 6. This might not sound like a lot to some, I have no real point of comparison, but when it is a work-heavy committee there are a lot of demands on time. Add a full (and overloaded, some semesters) teaching load this is the chief issue with heavy service requirements
2. Rewards--There seems to be minimal institutional rewards built in for committee service. It is a much smaller part of the tenure/annual review process
3. Energy--At times, I find myself depleted of any energy when facing endless meetings and tasks on quick deadlines

This made me ponder WHY faculty are appointed to committees and to wonder if other tenure-track faculty members find themselves feeling unable to say "no" when appointed by Deans or higher administrators as I have felt in the past couple years. I must say, I've begun employing "no" more often and feel partially responsible that I didn't start out more assertively in setting the tone on committee work. I assumed if appointed one should sit on that committee.

There seems to be a trend, though. A lot of the committees seem to involve a core group of the same folks. We appear heavily female in most committees, as well. So, I've posted a research article to examine this element of faculty life (Porter) regarding participation on committees. Porter noted that females and minority faculty perform more service than their male, majority counterparts and claims that excess committee participation may harm career prospects (since it takes time away from grants, research, and publications).

Armed with new literature to read, safely tucked in a file folder next to my upcoming two committee folders, I plan to dip further into the research and explore this issue to better inform my own career trajectory.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Committees and higher education: is there a balance to faculty life?

Faculty life, it seems, is made up of more than just teaching and research--this was the largest lesson of my first couple of years on the tenure track. In fact, that service component has become a time-consuming monster! I run from one class to a meeting and back to office hours before another committee meeting and then wonder why my research has slowed--well, then it is of little surprise that I was in a committee meeting today (Strategic Planning) when a colleague mentioned blogging. I maintain a personal blog for friends and family full of the short quips and pictures that keep them up to date and never thought of anything further, though I enjoy many excellent blogs in higher education (check out I was new to an academic blogging endeavor. But the idea of a blogging community to explore the balance (or lack thereof) of faculty life at a teaching institution was suddenly very appealing. I found a desire to further explore some of the many objectives, goals, and tasks faced by institutions of higher education--particularly teaching institutions. Slanting this through a lens of my research (faculty socialization, communication, pedagogy, technology and the larger issue of access to the culture of higher education) I thought I'd try a little blog to see if others shared this interest. Let's see where this blog goes!

A few questions I've been pondering, though all thoughts are welcome!
- what is your committee load and how do you feel about your committee work?
- how is the communication at your institution?
- what role does/did mentoring play in your academic socialization?
- have you found balance in your tenure track?
- what new tips or strategies do you have in teaching, research, or service?