Profgrrrl has a good post up about being no longer junior faculty technically but not feeling like "senior" faculty exactly, either. She's moving smoothly toward full but right now she isn't there: "And so I try to become both comfortable with being nothing or being in-between while motivating myself to move forward."
There's another conversation that people in this position sometimes have (and yes, I am keeping this hypothetical for now). It goes something like this:
Powers that Be: "Yay, you're an associate! How would you like to commit to an extended term of service on this project? It will look good when you go up for full."
You: "Sure! I'm on it!"
Powers that Be: "You did a great job with that term of service! How would you like to step in and do this one?"
You: "Will it help me with promotion?"
Powers that Be: "Maybe, but the thing is, we really, really need you to do it for the good of the department/college/university."
You: "Okay. It could be good experience."
Powers that Be: "How would you like to do this term of service/admin? You'd really be good at it."
You: "Do you think this will be helpful for promotion?"
Powers that Be: "We value research when we put someone up for promotion. That's just logical."
You: "No, I don't think so."
Powers that Be: "We'd like you to ---"
You: "I'm flattered and honored, but no. I'm working on my research."
As the chauffeur in Downton Abbey observes, "flattered is a word that posh people use when they're getting ready to say no," and I certainly want to be posh. But I am flattered, too, since PTB wouldn't ask if they didn't think I could do it.
But what's the dividing line here? You still need to do service. If you say no, you risk being seen as less competent than those who can get their research done and still do all the service stuff, although to be honest these people are more heard about than seen, like Bigfoot.
Yet it is crystal clear that with the best intentions in the world, and meaning no malice at all, the Powers that Be could flatter you into staying at one level forever instead of moving up to that big open meadow in the sky, where all the full professors do cool stuff.
[Edited to add: I swear this is my last post complaining about service. I want to talk about more exciting things, I promise!]