Beki Grinter

Service in the Academy: Broadening Participation by Reconfiguring Participation?

In academia, academic management, computer science, women on April 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

Ada Lovelace day was an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of women in computer science. But, I also took it as an opportunity to reflect on what can be done to broaden the base of opportunities for women in computer science. And that reminded me of a recent study: A.N. Link et al (2008) “A time allocation study of university faculty” in the Economics of Education Review 27, page 363-374

The Abstract says

Many previous time allocation studies treat work as a single activity and examine trade-offs between work and other activities. This paper investigates the at-work allocation of time among teaching, research, grant writing and service by science and engineering faculty at top US research universities.

So, what do they find?

Focusing specifically on untenured faculty, we find that male assistant professors work slightly less, on average, than female assistant professors, but these same males spend almost three more hours a week on research than their female counterparts. If this average difference is maintained for 50 weeks each year, after 6 years as an assistant professor, the average male will have spent 900 more hours on research than the average female. This difference may have an appreciable effect on the likelihood of receiving tenure.

I was reminded of this when I saw the New York Times’ report about a new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that finds that there’s still a persistent bias against women in science and mathematics. I wonder, frankly, whether service loads is part of the problem. The paper goes on to show that the work gap described above is commonly filled by time spent on service activities. As a wise colleague of mine pointed out after I’d agreed to Papers Chair CHI pre-tenure, that no-one gets tenure for the service they do. And the idea that an average male faculty member might get 900 hours more time to spend on research, seems well, like a lot of time to do the things that do matter: establish a program of research and have that up and running and producing students etc…

The gap between the service loads borne by male and female faculty also appear to continue post-tenure according to Link et al’s findings, although the gap also appears to close somewhat. And other differences among female and male faculty also begin to emerge in terms of research and teaching. But, I don’t think a University can afford to wait until post-tenure to ensure that women are given the same career research opportunities to succeed as their male peers.

So I think the time has come to look closely at service loads as a potential area for short-term change that could broaden participation by redistributing the work.

Update: the original article ended here, but since this has triggered some discussion, I’ll add one more quote from Link et al.

Our results suggest that women spend more time on service and less time on research than their male colleagues. To the extent that the time allocation of faculty is related to subsequent academic success (e.g., substantial time spent on research and grant writing early in ones career may be related to later success) then understanding gender differences in time spent on different work activities may have, albeit in a general way, policy implications for balancing the representation of women in science and engineering. Our data do not allow us to understand whether the different allocation decisions are due to different preferences, teaching or service assign- ments, or other factors. The appropriate policy response depends on the reasons for different time allocations. If the differences were driven largely by differences in preferences for research across male and female academics, the introduction of ‘‘differ- entiated roles’’ may help encourage women, who have been under represented for decades, to pursue academic careers in science and engineering. Alter- natively, if the differences are due to a more general culture or differing assignments or rules, then changes in these dimensions will be required

I find myself in agreement. I think we should include a focus on gender differences as we discuss the balance among research, education and service. I want to know whether it’s individual or institutional as a women in science myself (I certainly have my own opinions, but I would like independent evidence to help me understand my own choices).

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