Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Overcommitteed

August is typically a bit of a feeding frenzy for the forming and filling of committees with participants. I've received numerous requests in the couple of weeks from committee chairs with invitations to spend various amounts of time doing university or professional service work.

I said yes to two. I am cycling off some other committees, so I felt I could take on some new ones. I said no to the rest.

I have a pretty good sense for what I can take on and what would be too much, though sometimes it's hard to tell just how much time a particular committee or other service activity can take. And of course some service activities can fill all the time you have if you let them. Deciding what is worthwhile and learning how to balance time spent on service vs. research vs. teaching are things you figure out with experience (and/or good mentoring early on if you're lucky).

One positive aspect of being such a popular target for committee membership is that I have options. I can pick the ones that look like they might be interesting and a potential good use of my time. And, since I am doing a fair amount of service work, I don't feel (too) bad about saying no to the others, though I sympathize with the committee chairs who are trying to round up volunteers.

In the past 10 years or so, I have been on at least 6 university-level committees, some for 3-year terms, and I just got invited to be on two more; I said yes to one and no to the other. My husband has never been asked to be on any committee above the department level.

Of course there are many Male Science Professors who do a lot of committee work; I have never been on a committee with more women than men. Even so, that's what he gets for being a dime-a-dozen MSP -- he is much more likely to be a committee wallflower, uninvited and uncommitteed.

6 comments:

Assistant Professor of Physics at a PUI said...

As a new reader, I'm curious about your opinion on the standard conundrum of which is worse: Making committees representative (even at the cost of disproportionately committing the small number of female science faculty) or unrepresentative committees making decisions?

I realize that it needn't always be an either-or choice, and there are ways to prioritize in consultation with affected faculty. However, if the number of female faculty is small, then it's hard to balance the most important (and time consuming) committees without putting some significant burdens on female faculty.

I look at my own department: 4 hires my year, 2 men and 2 women. One man was hired for a senior administrative job, so he's in a special category, but the rest of us are assistant professors, and I (thankfully!) got a light service load while the female hires got heavier loads. I'm good friends with one of them, and she wishes she was in a position to say no (not easy for anybody, male or female, without tenure).

Female Science Professor said...

That's the classic problem that will only be solved when there are more women faculty. Until then, it's important that women be represented on important committees; I've described numerous anecdotes to show why this might be so. As long as women are overburdened with committee work, however, our administrators need to give us credit for this extra work (rather than devaluing or ignoring it).

Assistant Professor of Physics at a PUI said...

I see the importance of representation, and I agree on the long term solution. In the short term, it's a heavy burden for my friend--research time is scarce at a PUI, and we don't have grad students to help us.

Moreover, taking the long term view, even if the Dean recognizes and rewards her service, that only affects her standing inside the institution. Her external standing in the eyes of the rest of the profession, her appraisal by her peers, and her visibility to aspiring female scientists outside the school all depend on her research productivity. Research productivity will also influence her ability to serve on grant review panels, editorial boards, professional society committees, and other places where representation is important.

Not to mention that she might just enjoy doing more research. There is the personal satisfaction angle.

I agree on the long term solution, but the short term solution of assuring representation on key committees basically advantages male assistant professors like me over female assistant professors like her.

chemcat said...

not to mention that being the lone token female in a committee is useless...

AsstFemaleProf said...

especially if you are the lone, token, first year, assistant female professor...

Doctor Pion said...

The m/f ratio is quite different at my CC, but now consider the possible service issues if you happen to be a black female in a math or science field! Two groups for the price of one ... except to her sanity.