Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Herding Cats for Service

This job entails teaching, research, and service. There appear to be many differing opinions on what constitutes service activities and how much service is appropriate. To me service, includes sitting on committees, being an officer in a professional organization, organizing symposia, sitting on thesis committees, acting in an administrative role (e.g., ABET coordinator).  I'm sure I missed some other activities, but you get the idea.

Many of my colleagues shy away from doing any service at all. I can understand the rationale, being that there is no tangible return (money) for doing service. Even so, shirking duties can be frustrating to me because it puts that much more service work on those willing to do it.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of service is when you rely on other faculty to complete your tasks. For instance, suppose you need volunteers to judge student talks or attend a science demonstration. In this case, it is an activity that you can't do all by yourself. When volunteers are required, I am left to herding cats and twisting arms to get faculty to give me even a response. I know that they are quietly deleting my email requests for volunteers (hey, I do it, too). At some point, I have to call them up or talk with faculty face to face to drum up warm bodies for the service task at hand. This whole process is extremely time consuming.

I think that faculty are reluctant to do service activities because they spread so thin for time. If service is neglected, then there are no repercussions. Even promotion and tenure evaluations seem to poo-poo on doing major service (at least from what I have seen). I have never heard of a department head/chair telling a faculty that they weren't doing enough service. Ha!

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