Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science. Send your question to Alice’s attention at SciCareerEditor@aaas.org.
Only when you are tenured and at the top of your profession do you have the luxury of extra service to your school and advocacy for women.
Q: I have been an assistant professor at a top university for almost 2 years. It has been a hard slog to get my lab going and get everything done. I miss being a postdoc.
My problem is that I am one of only two female faculty members in my large department. My department chair has put me on three committees because he needs the diversity. Now, the dean has asked me to do a study on research associates at this university, the majority of whom are female, and determine their status: years post-Ph.D., productivity, and other important parameters that might help them be promoted. I would really like to do the study because I think I have some good ideas. Besides, turning the dean down could jeopardize my future. I wish I could do it all, but my lab work would definitely suffer.
On the other hand, if I resign from some or all of my committee work, it might disappoint my department chair; that, too, could jeopardize my future. What should I do?
A: Many female professors have faced the problem you face. Department chairs should watch out for young professors without tenure and not overload them with administrative duties, but the need for (and lack of) diversity on committees puts them in a bind.
Be very focused on your career, which largely depends on your research productivity. Only when you are tenured and at the top of your profession do you have the luxury of extra service to your school and advocacy for women. However, in addition to teaching, your academic promotions will also depend on “citizenship,” which includes service on committees and participation in departmental activities and seminars. So determine what the average committee assignment is for all—especially male—assistant professors; to me, being on three committees sounds like an unusually heavy load, especially for an assistant professor. Choose committees that will enhance your career, such as running departmental seminars where you can invite friends and colleagues, and become more widely known in your field. Avoid thankless and time-consuming committees and tasks, like graduate student advising or increasing child care availability. Graciously decline the dean’s invitation to participate in the study on research associates until your lab is productive. If you do eventually sign on to do the survey, ask for help in gathering and analyzing the data, and utilize your time on designing a survey that will get at the important issues that concern you.
You should be commended for wanting to help other women at your university, especially those not on the tenure track. But once you’re tenured, you will be in a much better position to help them.
And remember, when you get to the top, don’t forget the women.