Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sometimes it pays to be nice

This should be obvious, but in the world of academia where it seems like the self centered, selfish faculty members are the ones at the top of pile when it comes to research grant money and lab size, sometimes I wonder if all the service is really worth it.  There was a great article recently from the AAUP on the ivory ceiling and burden of service on female associate professors.  It reaffirmed what I already knew, I get asked to do more stuff because I'm a woman and I feel like I can't say no.  Don't get me wrong, I care about other women in the system (undergrads, graduate students, faculty, etc.) but what is the cost of all this service to my research productivity and my future.  It's something I ponder as I watch some faculty members who say no with reckless abandon and only do things that will clearly benefit them in the near future.

I've been a largely radio silent here due to the increased burdens of a new administrative role I have taken on in my department.  I could do the minimum and spend much less time on it, but that is not in my nature, and I see a lot of positive changes that can be made (if I put in the time).  It's still greatly a work in progress, but I think after 1-2 years it will get easier.  It's a difficult because this is a new role in the department so part of my work is to define the role and it's responsibilities/limitations.  I have several interesting observations based on my 6 months on the job: (1) senior faculty that would have walked all over me before are now more respectful because in some sense I control something that is important to them, and I could make it harder for them to get access to this resource (at least in some sense), (2) I need to shift my approach from trying to inspire respect from students (which I now largely have from this role) to conveying a sense of community and inspiration (trying to move beyond the rules and regulations to the higher educational goals of the program), (3) treating others with respect and being pro-active can be good for everyone.

I generally try to be a team player (sometimes to the detriment of my productivity) and helpful to others.  I feel like I'm finally reaping the benefits of this from getting favors when needed to just general kind words and support.  The synergies that can benefit both my department and others are starting to kick in and it is fun to see these things come to fruition.  I am also am realizing because role that the lack of contribution of some of the self-centered faculty does not go unnoticed.  They will get by on their research reputation, but the way they treat people does have consequences in subtle ways.  It does make me feel a little better in some ways.  I'm also using this opportunity as a training ground to see whether I'm interested in bigger roles.  The jury is still out on that accord, but I'm learning a great deal about the best ways to herd cats and how to you need to make sure the key players are on board before the meeting.

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