Friday, August 06, 2010

More on service: Hannibal Lector explains it all

Nicole's comment on the last post got me thinking about a kind of service that's hard to say no to:
I, on the other hand, took on only programs for which I was specifically needed (curriculum development for a core I teach) or would benefit me professionally (organizing a department brown-bag) and one that has a defined goal with set time (admissions committee).
One tricky part of service is that middle kind. What if someone in your department organizes a brown-bag, or gives a lecture on campus, or gives a reading, or does a workshop? You are in the usual academic state of having way too much work to do as it is. Do you attend always? Sometimes? Never? How do you decide?

Let's assume that the most important thing here isn't learning something new (although it may be). Let's assume that the most important thing is supporting our colleagues. If we're there to support colleagues, there are at least three ways to think about this.

1. The nice way goes something like this: "Of course I'll go! I want to support my colleagues. So what if this is the third evening this week I've attended one of these?"

2. The cold way goes something like this: "My seat in the audience does not translate into a line on my vita. I have an article to write and a writing schedule to keep. See you later."

3. The middle ground goes something like this: "Quid pro quo, Clarice. Quid pro quo. (while mumbling something about fava beans and a nice Chianti)." In other words, you show up at my presentation, and I'll show up at yours. If you've been collegial in other ways, I'll show up, too, even if you haven't been to my presentation.

What about you? How do you decide?


Nicole said...

I hope that the brown bags we do aren't just there to support me. If service is just useless make-work then there's no point in anyone spending time or money on them no matter how nice the organizer is. We do start off with a roundtable discussion of what we did for the week and any small problems we've been having, so it isn't all focused on one person.

I go to seminars because I'm interested in the speakers. I go to brown-bags because I'm interested in having accountability for my research (in a humanities field I would have organized a writing group instead). I go to student talks because our students and their presentations reflect on our school, resulting in better students in the future.

I do admit to sometimes going to lunch talks that I am completely uninterested in just for the free food. But I was going to eat lunch anyway. I do get some bonus points on my annual review for showing up from the senior faculty who could not care less about my research. Next year I understand that food will no longer be budgeted so we'll have to see whether the social positives to an untenured faculty member balance out my complete lack of interest in the topic.

undine said...

I didn't mean to imply that the brown bags are useless or make-work projects, Nicole; what you describe sounds like a useful exercise. I'd also agree that it's important to support students as well as colleagues.

What I'm asking is how people set priorities when they have papers to grade AND classes to prep AND an article deadline AND a committee report to write if there are a number of these events in a week (as there often are).

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

An hour-long drive makes it simple: do I need to be on campus anyway and is the time free of other commitments? Then I'll go. Not an on-campus day? Sorry.

I can think of two times in the last five years when I went to campus for some sort of presentation when I didn't also need to be there for some other reason.

michele said...

Interesting question. My inclination is to the first - show up, be supportive etc. But that will fall by the wayside if I've got deadlines looming (self-imposed or otherwise).

(Having said that, I have let colleagues talk me into attending things because they've sold them so effectively that I feel like I'd miss out on something if I didn't go!)

I agree with Dame Eleanor that I will rarely come in on a day I don't need to be there (though since I teach 4 days a week, that's rarely an issue).

But the whole quid pro quo thing just seems exhausting to me - keeping track of who showed up last time just feels like work. I'd rather not have to keep a score card and know that I attend enough events that I show collegiality without being a slave to it.