As new faculty members arrive on their campus each fall, most have been prepared for the scholarship portion of the faculty work triad of teaching, research and service. They have a recently completed their dissertation—the figurative ink is often still wet—and are excited to continue their scholarship as they move into an academic position. Many new academics also come to their college or university eager to take on the instructional or teaching aspects of the position. They have had experience teaching at the college and university level as part of their graduate assistantships.
But the service portion of the academic faculty triad is often not as well understood by incoming faculty members, as they have had little prior experience with it. If you are one of those new faculty members, I’ll describe in this piece some of the various service options that might be available to you and provide advice on those you may want to consider.
Service to the Institution
As a new faculty member, you should try to identify one or two initial committees to focus on at the department level and perhaps one at the college or university level.
Departmental service is the fundamental way other members of the department can get to know you and you can get to know them. Serving on hiring committees, for instance, provides the chance for you to learn about your department’s processes as well as to interact with your more senior colleagues. It’s also a chance for you to help shape the future membership—and ultimately the direction—of your department.
You might also consider serving on hiring committees for administrative staff members in the department or even at the university level, as it is an opportunity to learn what those roles entail and what is needed to manage the broader institution. Another option is joining the curriculum committee of your department, which can give you the chance to have a say in the development of future programs and coursework.
It is usually not essential for new faculty members to serve on university-level committees during their first year, which will allow you the time to research options and become better informed about the type of committee you might want to join. That said, if you do decide to serve at that level, you should try to identify a committee that meets your needs.
First, the committee’s focus should be an area of genuine interest for you. Committee work can be tedious, especially if you are not that interested in the subject matter. Second, institution-level committee work is an excellent opportunity for you to get to know your peers across colleges and departments, so try to participate in one that has members you particularly want to meet.
Speak with other people who might have served on various committees and try to determine which ones are most worthy of your commitment. They can give you advice, for example, about which committees have a reputation for collaboration and productivity. Ultimately, it’s best to find ones that you are passionate about and that will allow you to use your interests and skills to make a difference.
Avoid committees that are advisory in nature. Those committees tend to not have a strong role in the shared governance process. Committee assignments take up a significant amount of time. The service aspect is also a key facet of the promotion and tenure process at many institutions, so focus on committees that will make a difference and where you can have an impact.
Committee assignments are managed in a variety of ways. Ask your chair or a mentor which committees make the most sense for you. The dean might have insights on committee assignments. Often committee assignments are made at beginning of the year or the end of the previous year. Voice your desires to your chair or other mentors. Committee assignment considerations are generally managed informally and then voted on in department meetings.
Community service is another avenue for career growth and contributions. It can take the form of service to the profession or to the local area.
Service to the profession is often a good way for you as a fledgling academic to engage within your chosen field and start to develop a career network. A simple way to get involved in professional service is to volunteer as a peer reviewer for a professional journal. One helpful aspect of peer reviewing articles is that most journals allow reviewers to accept or pass on individual reviews, affording you some control over how much work you take on and when you need to complete it. Joining a professional association and volunteering to serve on association committees or conference teams—and to, say, help conduct peer reviews of conference submissions—is another way to engage in service experiences.
Finally, local communities can provide a great range of service opportunities. Municipal and county governments usually have a wide variety of citizen committees and boards that need a steady stream of volunteers. Sometimes those boards are elected, but many other ones—such as boards of public libraries, fire and police departments, and local park districts—are appointed by the mayor or another executive. Service on such boards tends to be a win-win: it provides the local community with access to university expertise and support, while allowing you to meet people and learn more about the surrounding area—helping to break down the town-and-gown divide that is far too common in college towns.
Some community organizations will advertise for volunteers via social media or in other local outlets. Simply responding to those solicitations is usually the best method for engagement. Governmental boards and committees will usually solicit committee applications annually in the fall, though some take applications throughout the year. Some organizations will want a simple résumé and maybe a brief cover letter offering your services, but often a simple email offering assistance will be enough.
I must also note that, as you determine which service opportunities are of most interest to you—whether institution or community oriented—you should consider the workload of each one. For instance, most committees meet once or twice a month, although others can meet as often as weekly. You should also give thought to the preparation time for each meeting, as well, as committee work can often require quite a bit of reading in advance.
Also, be vigilant about not being coerced to serve on too many committees. Don’t fall into the trap of filling the silence in department meetings by offering, “Sure, I can do that” or taking on too many big community projects. You could get overloaded to the point of having to push important scholarship to the back burner, or it could take vital energy away from for your teaching activities.
With careful selection of service activities balanced between the department, college and university levels, new faculty members can use this portion of the faculty role to build an effective set of experiences to support their ultimate promotion and tenure. Additionally, working on effective committees will be an opportunity to meet and collaborate with faculty from across the institution. Beyond institutional service, community service and service to professional associations are ways to build positive relationships and enhance both the standing of the individual faculty member and their institution.