Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What if 40/40/20 is really 40/40/40? (Or, why do more service than you’re asked to, even if it gets you in trouble?)

Guest Bandit Blogger Dr. Christopher Dana Lynn shares his experiences with the slipperiest part of your professional portfolio, service:

I first experienced this one summer during grad school when my department paid me a modest sum to overhaul their website. In doing so, I had to introduce myself to every member of the faculty to update their bios & get new photos. This interaction was integral to my success in the department, as everyone came to know me & support me. I learned about shared research interests I had with faculty doing widely disparate things that weren’t otherwise apparent. This taught me firsthand the value of networking thru service.

Me & my clan circa grad school 
(yes, I'm including this for the gratuitous "cute" factor).
The first significant service outside my department for which I wasn’t also being paid was as a program officer for the first NorthEastern Evolution Psychology Society (NEEPS) conference. This offshoot of the Human Behavior & Evolution Society had started up at SUNY New Paltz, 15 minutes from my house. How could I not get involved? That led, in part, to meeting other faculty at New Paltz, though I was a grad student at the University at Albany, & offers of lecturer positions at two institutions & a position on the executive committee of the newly formed Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at New Paltz. These gigs helped me make $, refine my abilities, & learn admin skills.

However, one of the reasons I got hired at the University of Alabama in 2009 was because I had developed breadth into evolutionary psychology thru the NEEPS & EvoS service. When I arrived at UA, I jumped into involvement with a group of like-minded faculty called the Evolution Working Group, which hosts an evolution-oriented lecture series. In conjunction with this group, we started our own EvoS program at the University of Alabama.  The program involves a minor, which I co-direct, & a student-run club, for which I am faculty mentor.  For the minor to work, I developed & teach several classes over my expected teaching load of 2/2 (two courses per semester) & help the students organize & host an annual Darwin Day event.

TMSE kids doing a forensics activity as 
part of our anthro outreach course
In addition to the EvoS program, I run a research group every week that I modeled on the evolutionary psychology lab I was part of as a grad student.  At this point, it is mostly undergrads & my few grad students, but we meet for 3 hours every week to collaborate on research, which amounts essentially to teaching another course. Finally, when my kids were in 3rd grade, their PTA asked me to teach a semester-long anthropology course as part of the partnership their school has with the University of Alabama. By this point, my dean had echoed my grad school adviser several times, stating in my annual recommendation for retention that my service load is too extensive & varied for someone at my career stage & that I should scale back. However, as a chairperson of another department & parent of one of my children’s classmates pointed out, our children grow up fast & won’t give us this opportunity with them again. Although I swore I would only teach the class the first year, it was very successful—who learns anthropology in elementary school?! How could I not continue to teach that?

Last year, I figured out how truly important all this extra work has been for me. I began the process of applying for a National Science Foundation CAREER grant, which requires integration of teaching innovation. I realized that all the service I have been doing was exactly what I needed for developing a “career trajectory.” Thru it, I had developed substantial collaborations throughout my university, indicating my willingness & ability to work across disciplines & with teams. I have met scholars throughout the world by organizing their lectures here who have expressed willingness to vouch for me at tenure time. When I go to conferences, I know far more people than I otherwise would & feel a sense of mission in promoting these programs we’ve developed.

So, what’s the take-home message? Do service willy nilly? Not hardly. But don’t shy away from it either. Everyone is busy, but your willingness to take on just a little more will be greatly appreciated &, to invoke some of my favorite evo theory, it is a costly honest signal of your willingness to cooperate that will reward you with unforeseen dividends!

Christopher D. Lynn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Co-director of Evolutionary Studies program
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487

Follow me on Twitter: @Chris_Ly