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Committee Work Is Not Hard Work
December 7, 2011 - 9:00pm

Committee work may be time intensive. And committee work might not be as relevant as we'd like for promotion. But committee work is not hard work.

Academics types love to complain. My theory is that naturally critical people are selected into grad school, and grad school rewards and nurtures that tendency. I got very good in grad school at sitting around a seminar table and critiquing other people's ideas. Perhaps not the best lifelong skill.

And we love to complain about committee work. The time. The endless meetings. The lack of clear outcomes. The personalities. Etc. Etc.

But I love committee work. Perhaps it is because I compare all work to my stints working in food service (Dunkin Donuts), retail (stock boy), medical device delivery (don't ask), and moving and storage (college student).  Let me tell you, sitting around a table talking about action items or mission statements or whatever beats the hell out of the jobs I've had.

I think it is fundamentally hard for us who are lucky enough to work in or around academia to recognize just how fortunate we are.  If we acknowledge our luck we might jinx it, or someone will come and take it away. It is as if we admit that a large reason for our academic employment is being on the right side of chance, as well as all of our hard work, that somehow we will end up unemployed. We project the image of sacrifice as some sort of armor against an economy and job market with no guarantees and lots of risk.

So I say, revel in committee work. How many people get paid to sit around a table and talk? Embrace the opportunity to learn new things from people in different disciplines and professions around campus. Try to listen more than speak.  Be humble and gracious, and don't give in to the status games and hierarchy signaling that often accompany committee meetings. Always support the most junior person in the room. 

I'll bring the donuts.


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