Rob Kitchin, Rules for making decisions on requests for academic work Some very interesting discussion of how to decide what to do, and what not to do,
Last week I posted on my personal blog about the volume of requests I receive to undertake work beyond my allocated load as directed by university managers. Such work includes reviewing for journals and grant agencies, writing references and external examining, serving on advisory boards and working with local communities, and contributing papers to special issues or delivering invited talks.
While undertaking all these tasks are expected of academics as part of their normal load, constituting service work and an important part of the exchange economy of academia (Elden 2008), it is usually undertaken at their discretion. Key questions then are: what requests for labour to accept? What is an acceptable/sensible load? These questions become more pressing as the number of requests increases as an individual’s profile and academic network develop.
Most academics, I sense, find it quite difficult to evaluate and manage requests, and to say ‘no’ to many of them. In part this is because we are trying to balance a sense of obligation to participate in the exchange economy (especially if we know the person making the request), with a strategic approach to career development, and a need for personal well-being. Certainly, I struggle in deciding which requests to accept, and even though I do say ‘no’ to a lot of requests I still feel I take on too much and struggle to deliver on my promises (I typically receive about one new request a day beyond existing commitments).
On social media I was asked about how I go about making decisions on what requests to undertake and how I manage the workload. I didn’t have a ready answer because I’ve never formulated a strategy for decision-making or managing commitments. Instead, I have been using a rough set of unarticulated rules of thumb. It was also suggested that it might be useful for academics to be mentored with regards to dealing with requests.
In an effort to provide some mentoring advice, but also to try and formalise my own rules of thumb, I thought it might be useful to consider how best to deal with external requests for academic labour. [continues here]