I once said in the late 1990s, “Shoot me if I ever talk about getting a cell phone.” But the world evolved, and so do we. So, this semester, I’m entirely out of the classroom, and am taking on a part-time acting administrative role. I’ll be applying for the longer-term slot, too.
If I ended up taking on a half-time administrative job at my university, there’s no way the job would end up being a half-time gig. Even if I somehow only spent twenty hours per week working at it (and fat chance at that), far more hours would be sucked away by the seven administrative sausage-makers taking up space in my head. I’d be worrying about preventing one person from trying to gain access to another person’s budget. I’d try to sort out who I could cajole to join a committee. My calendar would have deadlines for reports popping up. Even when not in meetings with people who wear suits, I wouldn’t be able to eliminate the conversations with suits from my consciousness.
I want to think about manuscript revisions, my next lesson, the next grant and keeping tabs on the projects students are doing over the year. This last semester had more admin work than I’m used to, and regardless of the time I spent on it, the administrative stuff handicapped everything else. I could be a part-time administrator by the clock, but not by the brain.
Why would I be doing this? What is the world coming to? I’m not entirely sure, but let me make some sense of this for both you and me.
I’m now acting for the moment as the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. Someone stepped down, and I stepped into it, so to speak, until the campus does a more official search. But I think I want to do this for more than a few weeks, and maybe for a few years, if the campus will have me.
Why would I let myself take on this kind of role, and divide my time even further, preventing me from focusing on my research, my own students, and other goals? Not to mention being a responsible parent and spouse? Here I am flouting the advice of EO Wilson, who advised junior scientists to avoid being involved in university governance. But I’m not fond of pulling up the ladder from junior scientists. My work calendar is radically different from what it looked like five years ago, when I adamantly wanted to keep all so many competing interests out of my head so that I could focus on research, teaching and mentorship. It turns out that staying out of admin hasn’t been a recipe for focus. I still have ended up in a variety of leadership roles on campus, and I’ve become more engaged off campus. I think that by stepping into this role, I will be able to have more focus — and in directions that I think will be most effective. If I’m going to be taking on leadership roles, I might as well make it part of my actual job.
I’m still a faculty member — my office is still in my department, and I definitely have an ambitious research agenda, which is as much a part of my workload as it has always been. Let’s see how it goes over the next few months.