Yes and Nos
Making decisions about service
October is half over! How did it go? (where did it go?) How can you make it better? Let’s kick some ass.
I have a new mentee at work! (Hi Josh!) We’ve been chatting a lot about service – which service to do, how to choose between tasks, and what is a good amount of service. He asks good questions. I give mediocre answers. Here are my mediocre answers for everyone!
To start, if you are an early career scholar, you probably have gotten the advice that you should say no to service. If you are a woman, you’ve gotten the advice to say no. If you are a scholar of color… If you are first gen… If you are LGBTQ… we’ve all been told to say no over and over. Get a no committee! Find polite ways to say no! Tell them to fuck off! Wait to say yes for two days! Give yourself ice cream if you say no! NO NO NO!
I’m here to tell you that saying no is really important and universities will take advantage of you if you don’t learn to say no but also the “just say no” solution to service is shitty “lean-in” style advice that does not take networks, pressure, resources, or relationships into account. This is the abstinence-only version of advice. We all know it doesn’t work. We cannot say no all the time. Why?
Not all of us are able to say no. Megan Ming Francis once said, “the act of saying no is service in itself.” It takes mental energy and courage to say no. And often, our nos are not respected. One time, an administrator asked me to teach three weeks of a class for him and when I said no, he said “do you know who I am?” (I did. Still no. Fuck that shit.) AND because the asks are unevenly distributed across gender and race, some of us have to say no more than others.
We don’t always WANT to say no. We are often asked to do things we think are interesting or important. We like students. We like making important decisions. Or we are asked by someone who has helped us or controls resources. Or it has to be done (does it tho?) and there’s no one else to do it. Or it will win us a favor in exchange in the future. Or if we don’t do it, it will fall on the shoulders of someone who is even less able to say no.
Here are the quandaries:
If you don’t do any service, you are an asshole
Service is a crucial mechanism by which you gain influence, make decisions, and meet people. People who do a lot of service often are deeply connected to a wide set of other academics.
No one gets tenure for service. But people don’t get tenure because they do too much service
Every yes is a no to something else (The CW©, named after Christina Wolbrecht’s excellent advice)
So: if service is important, but you don’t want to do too much service, how do you decide which pieces of service to do? The best service is service that you find enjoyable, important, and doesn’t take a lot of time. The worst service is service that is time-consuming, unimportant, and unenjoyable. When you are making a decision about whether to do the service, ask yourself:
Will I enjoy this? Is this important?
How much time will this take?
Ideally, you want service that is a quick dose of joy or here for a real time. MAYBE easy does it, especially if it means you can later say no to service that you will ragret. But please please – do not jump both feet in to any service that is both time consuming and unimportant or unenjoyable. You will have ragrets. This is the time for your no committee to really do their work.
How do you know how much time will this service will take? Ask people! Ask the people asking you! Ask your mentors. Ask your friends. Ask your committee of no.
So – go forth and make good (service) decisions my bebes!