Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘academic service’

University-wide Committees

In academia, academic management on June 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm

There is so much service for faculty members to do, and I have certainly done “my fair share.”

But just lately I’ve been reflecting on the rewards of one type of service. I’m pretty used to department and school committee service but in the last few years I’ve served on some committees that span the University (Institute).

These committees have introduced me to a wide variety of people who work at Georgia Tech. They have helped me to understand the range of concerns and perspectives that make up the place I work. They remind me of both the similarities and differences I share with them as a member of the College of Computing. They also help me to see into the College of Computing as an outsider might, reminding me of things I would have otherwise perhaps forgotten.

I know people already know this, but I the reason I wanted to blog about it is because I find that quite often I am focused on my immediate colleagues or my invisible college (Diane Crane’s version). University committees have given me a different perspective into the composition of the University. Its introduced me to people with whom I have subsequently accomplished something. Sometimes this has taken more than a year, but the best things are never rushed right.

So, while I won’t be signing up for all committees, I just want to sing the praises of the University committee.


Memorial Day: Reflecting on Service

In academia, academic management on May 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a holiday and a time to reflect on and thank all those who have served in the armed forces and the sacrifices that they have made. Thank you. It is also one of a few national holidays that the United States has and observes (yes, there are holidays in the U.S. that the post-office take, but that I do not get to observe–instead I get some “days” to spend–I’ve never quite understood it, but it seems to me to be somehow rather American to call something a holiday and then not take it).

Today was also the third day in a row that I have worked. Not necessarily all day, but Saturday, Sunday and Monday all contained work matters that I needed to respond to. First, to all those who created them, please don’t worry or take this critically. You are collectively the best part of my working life.

Once again I was reminded how my work is in caught in a web of dependencies. I can not easily decide to stop working even on an observed National holiday because it would also require others to stop working. How can I expect someone who has a deadline of tomorrow to not want to send me materials for review or comment? What about a paper to read for an upcoming deadline? Perhaps the deadlines that drive this are the unreasonable part, but scheduling anything that involves the participation of 100’s of people is hard to schedule, so there’s probably also a reason why one of these deadlines is tomorrow and another a few days later. And then of course, there are just those days when inspiration strikes and it seems to be a time of creativity, one for which I am a sounding board.

So I worked because I do not completely chose my schedule or time, I think some of it is caught in a series of responsibilities to others.

Now I shall return to my holiday, and make time to reflect on the other type of service.


The Service Gap

In academia, academic management, women on January 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

On January the 11th, the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) released the results of a new study of Associate Professors. A study that reports that women are still taking on far more service than men, often out of guilt that if they do not do it it will not get done. As a female Associate Professor, I find this troubling.

There is some good news.

Compared with earlier cohorts, women are earning more doctorates, taking more academic jobs, and earning tenure more frequently.

Yay. We are making important and healthy progress on a more balanced academic workforce. A former Dean of the College of Computing Richard DeMillo likes to quote a colleague of mine, Professor (yes that’s FULL Professor) Elizabeth Mynatt, who told him that if he wanted increased people diversity in the College he should increase the intellectual diversity.

Whether or not you agree with that assertion (FWIW: I happen to subscribe to it) this report raises the important question of retaining that diversity. It’s discouraging to learn that still three quarters of all Full Professors in the U.S. are men. Where did all the women go? That, of course, has been the subject of other reports (and others here including a fabulous multi-institution time report), suggesting that women leave academia in far greater numbers than men. Some of it is attributed to external service, no I don’t mean serving on Program Committees, I mean housework!

It’s also discouraging to learn that Doctoral granting Institutions have the longest gap between the time for men to get promoted to Full and the time for women to get the same promotion. The report cites ambiguity in the promotion criteria as part of the problem (in combination with service loads). I certainly have some experience. I came to my current position as an untenured Associate Professor, and I remained in that category for just over five years. Typically tenure accompanies a promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor. Some Universities decouple tenure and promotion, but the gap between one and the other does not last five years. Towards the end of the five years, I felt that the gap presented problems. While the lack of tenure (and its promotion criteria) drove me in one direction, being an Associate Professor and the promotion to Full increasingly demanded different behaviour. I was once told that the criteria for promotion to Full were to act like a Full Professor. In my case that would have been one without tenure. I still think that’s an absurd and unhelpful statement.

Recently, we went through a process of identifying and assessing the service that we do. We were asked to enumerate it and come up with a metric of how much time each activity took. There’s a lot of service work, and it was good to make it explicit so we could see what their was to get done and who was going to do it. I hope that activities like this will begin to balance workload, and I hope that in turn will lead to the more timely promotion of female Associate Professors.

This report encourages me to decline service, to remind and encourage graduate students to think about service balance, and most of all to continue to push for change through the example that I will try to be.


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.