Pros and Cons of Service

This semester, I have engaged in a lot of service work. I am active in the GTA Academy, planning and attending events, and I have also been very involved as a Diversity Scholar and member of the Bouchet Honor Society. Although I have enjoyed making these commitments and find my work with them meaningful, they have not left much time for research. Fortunately, my dissertation is completed, so my department isn’t giving me too much of a hard time about it!

While I chose to devote myself to service, not only this semester but also in my future career, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the others involved in these activities were women and/or people of color. For whatever reason, my anecdotal experience suggests that non-privileged groups take on the lion’s share of service activities. Is it just that non-privileged people connect more easily with the need to give back to the community and contribute as mentors, because of their own experiences with struggling to have their needs met? Or do these groups labor under the perceived societal expectation that service commitments are part of their professional responsibility, in a way that is not the experience of members of more dominant or privileged groups? Of course, it is not fair that the responsibility for service commitments is not shared equally by all groups, as highlighted in this article. In addition, something I have personally experienced is the sense that my service work is not rewarded by my department, or at least not perceived as being anywhere close to as important as research productivity or grant funding achievements. I think that getting proper recognition for service work is important for reducing the burden of the work on non-privileged groups, because that acknowledgement would elevate the status of this work and make it seem like a worthwhile “extra” commitment.

I would be really interested to hear other opinions on this issue: do you do a lot of service work now, and why or why not? Are you considering making service work an important part of your career, or do you dread the extra burden?

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