Beki Grinter


In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, women on November 2, 2010 at 7:59 am

Quite often I am asked about service that can be turned down. What do others think? Always looking for suggestions…

First, I’d like to propose that the HCI community consider a new faculty workshop at one of its conferences, like Software Engineering faculty hold at ICSE. A discussion about service, what’s appropriate, and at what point in a person’s career, seems like a perfect topic. I also know that by suggesting this I have ivolunteered to organize such a workshop. That’s the way of service.

OK, now to answer the question. Caveat, I am only fairly recently tenured and have never seen a tenure case being reviewed. These are my thoughts as an outsider.

* Know your Institution. What do they expect, of me, and others like me? Do I do a similar amount and type of service as colleagues who are at similar career points?

* Split service into at least two different categories: research community and university-based. Research community includes reviewing, associate chairing, papers chairing, general chairing (conferences), serving on editorial boards for journals, being a member of or chairing national committees, and so forth. University service involves serving on committees: admissions, recruiting, search, etc… for students, faculty and administrators.

The two types of service have different objectives. Research community service makes you more accountable and visible to your invisible college. Institutional service makes you more accountable and visible to your local academic community. When I decide what service to take on I think about these different objectives. I use my vita, where I record all my service activities, to help make decisions about my “portfolio” of service.

* Account for time. Service changes over time, you review papers and attend program committee meetings before you are asked to run one. (You’d like to see a few meetings before you run one, I promise). I try to visualize service as paths along which I walk. What I do reflects that path.

University service is more complicated. Some types of service may follow the same arc of research service. Being responsible, reliable, reasonable and successful may lead to more opportunities. Other types seem, in my mind, to require a different perspective on time, one of time management. Some types of service I manage as a temporal activity, how much time should I spend doing that particular piece of work.

* Theme. When I joined the academy, I was given advice to theme my service, I chose graduate programs. It took me several years to learn how the University thinks about graduate programs. I’m now pretty sure I know what the minor requirements are, and I pretty much can provide all the requirements to the HCC Ph.D. program. I also know the one thing that we have left to specify. By focusing on graduate programs in their many aspects I feel over time I’ve become something of an expert, and that means I am able to be a more effective at service. That said, I am now searching for a change, since I’d like to learn about other aspects of the Institute. My point is that themed service helped me organize it and do it well and time-effectively.

* Balance. In addition to understanding the balance of service within the realm of service (balancing external and internal with respect to your vita), I’ve also tried to be careful about balancing it with respect to teaching and research. Sometimes I’ve done something less than perfectly because I needed time for research or teaching. It can be hard, I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but I don’t like to do a bad job. But, research and teaching matter, and my hunch is that they matter more.

*Crown Jewels. Some years ago someone suggested to me that I try to focus on service related to the archival tracks of a conference, whether it be paper reviewing, being an Associate or Papers Chair and so forth. When a community trusts you with their crown jewels, that’s a good thing. Of course, there are other valuable activities that need service support, but I’ve tried to balance towards the crown jewels. I think this maybe true of institutional service too. You may be able to help make something that you do service around a crown jewel, and there are some committees which are very important to do well. Again, I try to ask myself, is this important, if I take it on and commit to doing a good if not excellent job, in addition to it being done I will have the respect of my colleagues?

* Reviewing for the NSF. This is extremely valuable and important. It’s important because it’s the business of helping the NSF get reviews for the myriad of proposals they receive each year. It’s valuable because you get to see the NSF reviewing process and understanding that can help with grant writing.

* Quality. For each new service request I ask myself if I took it on would it cause it or anything else I am currently doing to suffer in terms of quality. If so, my answer is usually no.

  1. someone has suggested a means by which to organize a new faculty workshop at the CHI conference. Would there be interest, from potential organizers and attendees?

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