Value and promote your contributions

The most recent advice panel I attended was at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Jan. 2015, organized by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) . That panel had a name similar to this post. Two questions arose from the audience which I will morph together and paraphrase below. Similar to many issues that I want to post about, what may appear to be “advice for women in mathematics” is truly generalizable to everyone in academics. It is my hope that by advertising this, more men will appear seeking out the advice of the all-female panel sessions organized by AWM — I have found them to be really excellent. 🙂

To the panel: “I am the only or the eldest woman grad student or faculty member in my department. Every time a woman is interviewed, hired, or invited to speak in our department I am the go-to person for accompanying the new person or guest to dinner. I am also the organizer of a group hosting lectures by women and I put in a lot of service that I don’t see my male peers doing. I like some aspects of this extra work because it’s important to me, but I’m worried that the extra time commitment is keeping me from achieving my best in other areas such as research. Do you have advice for me?”

The question here is framed in terms of gender because it was the particular situational experience of the person(s) asking the question. It also may represent the experience of many women, or of persons in another under-represented group; I talked about this more in the previous post. However, this same dilemma of one grad student or faculty member [of any gender] contributing a huge portion of service work in relation to others is a common experience. There is more to say here than just learning to say no.

This type of “extra work” is not freebie effort you expend into the universe only for it to vanish meaninglessly into the ether. You are providing a service, so you should treat it as such. Put it on your CV and include it in situations when you’re discussing your contributions to the department — that could be in your application materials, in your faculty evaluation summaries, or in certain appropriate conversations with other faculty or superiors.

In the case of the above question, perhaps a bullet point on your CV saying “frequently served as informal welcoming liaison for women guests to my department” (you can probably think of a better way to say it … but you get what I mean). If you are approached with too many requests than you can handle, learn to say no diplomatically. If you fear your efforts will be overlooked, perhaps you can say no with a gentle reminder attached: “I took Y number of guests out for dinner this semester, and I have some pressing work to attend to this week. Perhaps you can find someone else this time, but feel free to ask me again in the future.” (again, maybe you have a better way of wording this).

Once upon a time I heard a story about a person going up for tenure. Discussion arose amongst the [college-wide] tenure committee about the dearth of department contributions reflected in the tenure materials provided by the applicant. Luckily other department members we present at that meeting and they spoke up about a multitude of services the applicant was indeed providing that was not included in that person’s applicant materials. Whew, what a relief! Do you want this type of ambiguity present at your tenure promotion? I don’t!

Don’t forget to include the services you’ve provided in your application materials. Don’t understate or undervalue your contributions. In the realm of academics service is valued!

For those of you in the job market, you may have seen certain applications which require a Contributions To Diversity statement. This is a great place to take the “extra” service work you have done, and frame it in a larger context.

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