Monday, October 22, 2007

Service to the Academic Community: Goals?

Except for the rare award (like the ACM-SIGACT Distingushed Service Award or Aaron D. Wyner Distinguished Service Award), our academic community does not appear to especially value service to the community. Research dominates our mindset. At the same time, on the whole, pleasantly the community seems quite conscientious about giving back. Somehow, conferences get run, workshops get organized, journal papers get reviewed, the NSF panels meet and make their bizarre decisions, and so on.

Strangely, I can't think of any time where a "philosophy of service" has been explained to me -- in graduate school or as a new faculty member, from the theory CS community or from my institution that employs me. Thinking about this, I find it rather odd. Surely, someone should be suggesting what's an appropriate level of time and effort to put into service, and where these efforts might best be applied.

(There is some advice I've seen in books for new faculty members. For example, Robert Boice's book Advice for New Faculty Memberssuggests that new faculty essentially spend as little time as possible on service activities, and make early service opportunities as self-serving as self-benefitting as possible. I roughly agree, but we should make this part of a well-reasoned philosophy of service -- the community should protect it's youngest members and help them flourish.)

I think this topic is ripe for community discussion, and some resulting general guidelines. People should have some guidelines as to what's expected -- what's usual and what's exceptional community service. (And to be clear, here I mean service to the scientific community at large; university service, for example, is separate.)

I'll start with two basic, over-arching questions. (I have more specific ones in mind, but I'll save that for the next post.)
  1. How much time should be spent on academic service activities? [My take -- 1/8 time, or at least one hour a day on average, for senior faculty. Less for junior faculty starting out, but increasing steadily toward that. Ostensibly, people in research labs should also be at 1/8 service time -- anyone know of any policies on that?]
  2. Should we be better rewarding service, and if so, how?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Regarding your question 2 .. my take is that more than explicitly rewarding service, strong role models who do exceptional service -- and thereby inspire the next generation -- are the best way to keep a healthy (scientific) community going. As a personal example, my advisor David Shmoys has inspired me greatly, through his survey articles, superb planning for talks, being a great teacher etc. In general, a conscientious set of senior colleagues keep a field running well, in my opinion. (Some reward mechanism is OK, but too much focus on it may distort the picture. I hope a good deal of us in academia/research feel very fortunate to be part of this process, and that "giving back" comes naturally to most of us.)

aravind

Anonymous said...

...1/8 time, or at least one hour a day...

Are you saying that senior faculty only work a 40-hour week? =)

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anonymous 2 -- are you surprised that I would say senior faculty work only a 40-hour week, or are you surprised that I would say they actually work 40 hours a week? =)

Anonymous said...

...1/8 time, or at least one hour a day...

Are you saying that senior faculty only work a 40-hour week? =)

Or did he mean a 56-hour week? =)

Claire said...

When I was a professor in France, the government had an official guideline far all professors: that they spend 1/3 of their time on teaching, 1/3 on research, and 1/3 on administration.

Anonymous said...

Do you include refereeing in your definition of "service"? Program committee work?

Anonymous said...

In most other places that I know of, service is 20% and teaching and research are 40%. This means that the relative value of service to research is 2:1. This seems a clear improvement over the 1:1 ratio in France.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by service?
(1) Administrative service in one's department or university?
(2) Service to one's research community?
(3) Service to the outside world?
If you mean all three of these then the 1/8 figure seems low.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

As stated in the post:

(And to be clear, here I mean service to the scientific community at large; university service, for example, is separate.)

I meant specifically service to the scientific community, which arguably could include "service to the outside world" -- I'd certainly view writing a popular article explaining research to a more general audience, for instance, to be at least in part service. (My guess would be university service wold be approximately another 1/8 time, for about 1/4 time of service, though that might reasonably differ from school to school.)

Refereeing and PC work would then be service of the kind I'm talking about. I realize on thinking about it that when viewed this way, my previous conception that one should referee at least one paper for every paper one writes is perhaps unreasonable; refereeing should be viewed as one component in the larger area of service. So bringing up this topic at least got me to think a little differently already....