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Careers Café

Just say no: balancing administrative responsibilities with everything else


I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. I swear, I didn’t forget to write this blog post… which is due in 10 minutes, so technically, it’s not late yet. It’s just that I am writing this big grant proposal, and I’m working on the animal ethics for said proposal, and today I had two student meetings, a lecture and an administration meeting, and somehow, 4 o’clock seems a lot closer than I thought it would at this point of the day. Our daily responsibilities can build up quickly. So as I sit down to write, finally, I can’t help but ask myself how I could reduce my workload to a more manageable level.

To some extent teaching and student workloads are fixed, and we’re all here for the research too, right? So that just leaves administration. And our administrative load is not negligible. I’m on admissions, awards, hiring, executive, technical, and faculty committees at the moment. On their own, each is pretty manageable but when added on top of my other responsibilities, they can just be the last straw.

One of the problems with being on administrative committees is that they generally add little to your CV. While the time and effort put into teaching and research pay off with career progress and further research opportunities down the road, and the more you put into them, the better the payoff, administration activities are more like checkboxes; you need to do a certain amount of administrative work, which leads to the appropriate checkmark after your name, but any additional effort results in relatively little career advancement (unless you want to go into administration in the future, of course). So the extra effort beyond that which leads to your checkmark may help the department or faculty to succeed, and might get you a pat on the back from your supervisor, but it doesn’t help you move forward. In fact, if you get too caught up in administration, it can definitely hold you back from putting in the effort you need to into teaching and research.

I am told that this is a particularly significant problem for female academics, because there are fewer of us, and so more demand for our services on committees that strive to achieve a balanced sex ratio. I can’t really speak for the guys out there, but I can confirm that I am asked to be on more committees than I have time for.

Instead, take my faculty dean’s advice. I overheard him talking about workloads today, and he said jovially, in the context of accepting higher workloads, “sometimes we are our own worst enemies!” I found this kind of amusing, as he was the person who appointed me to search committees for four faculty members in the last academic year. But he’s also right. Maybe it’s his job to ask for my contribution, and my job is to set the limitations on what I can contribute. So next time he asks me to join a new committee, I’ll just remind him that I’d really like to help out as much as I can … but sometimes, I end up taking on too much, and in that context I am my own worst enemy, and it just might be time for me to say no.

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