What if 40/40/20 is really 40/40/40?

The following is a re-blog of a guest post I did for BANDIT (Biological ANthropology Developing Investigators Troop). I think the “Biocultural Systematics” blog is an appropriate venue to repost this because of the interdisciplinary approach we emphasize in our Biocultural Medical Anthropology program at the University of Alabama. My point in this post & in others by my colleagues on this blog, IMO, is that our combined efforts build toward the objective of a more synergistic, mixed-methods program. While not all of the service each of us is asked to do feels like part of that complex whole, hopefully the service we CHOOSE to do (& which we may be warned off of) is, in the long run, worth the further sacrifice of our personal time.

One final note before getting on with the show. In a Twitter comment, anthropology blogger Jason Antrosio drew attention to a quote by Randy Martin that Antrosio had highlighted in Living Anthropologically in 2011, in which Martin questions inherent gender & racial disparities with regard to service expectations by administrators.

While I agree, I think these are systematic issues not restricted to service & that the concept of a bygone era of weekends free of administrative expectations or more faculty self-governance is a myth (or I’ve just drunk the Kool-Aid).

At any rate, thanks to Julienne Rutherford for publishing BANDIT & asking me to guest post.

Guest Bandit Blogger Dr. Christopher Dana Lynn shares his experiences with the slipperiest part of your professional portfolio, service:

I first experienced this one summer during grad school when my department paid me a modest sum to overhaul their website. In doing so, I had to introduce myself to every member of the faculty to update their bios & get new photos. This interaction was integral to my success in the department, as everyone came to know me & support me. I learned about shared research interests I had with faculty doing widely disparate things that weren’t otherwise apparent. This taught me firsthand the value of networking thru service.

One reason I have been consistently warned against too much service is simply so it didn't cut into my family time. Good advisers & colleagues look out for us like that. This is me & my clan ca. grad school (&, yes, I've included it for the "cute" factor).

One reason I have been consistently warned against too much service is simply so it doesn’t cut into my family time. Good advisers & colleagues look out for us like that. This is me & my clan ca. grad school (&, yes, I’ve included it for the “cute” factor).

However, one of the reasons I got hired at the University of Alabama in 2009 was because I had developed breadth into evolutionary psychology thru the NEEPS & EvoS service. When I arrived at UA, I jumped into involvement with a group of like-minded faculty called the Evolution Working Group, which hosts an evolution-oriented lecture series. In conjunction with this group, we started our own EvoS program at the University of Alabama.  The program involves a minor, which I co-direct, & a student-run club, for which I am faculty mentor.  For the minor to work, I developed & teach several classes over my expected teaching load of 2/2 (two courses per semester) & help the students organize & host an annual Darwin Day event.

In addition to the EvoS program, I run a research group every week that I modeled on the evolutionary psychology lab I was part of as a grad student.  At this point, it is mostly undergrads & my few grad students, but we meet for 3 hours every week to collaborate on research, which amounts essentially to teaching another course. Finally, when my kids were in 3rd grade, their PTA asked me to teach a semester-long anthropology course as part of the partnership their school has with the University of Alabama. By this point, my dean had echoed my grad school adviser several times, stating in my annual recommendation for retention that my service load is too extensive & varied for someone at my career stage & that I should scale back. However, as a chairperson of another department & parent of one of my children’s classmates pointed out, our children grow up fast & won’t give us this opportunity with them again. Although I swore I would only teach the class the first year, it was very successful—who learns anthropology in elementary school?! How could I not continue to teach that?

TMSE kids doing a forensics activity as part of our anthro outreach course

TMSE kids doing a forensics activity as part of our anthro outreach course


Last year, I figured out how truly important all this extra work has been for me. I began the process of applying for a National Science Foundation CAREER grant, which requires integration of teaching innovation. I realized that all the service I have been doing was exactly what I needed for developing a “career trajectory.” Thru it, I had developed substantial collaborations throughout my university, indicating my willingness & ability to work across disciplines & with teams. I have met scholars throughout the world by organizing their lectures here who have expressed willingness to vouch for me at tenure time. When I go to conferences, I know far more people than I otherwise would & feel a sense of mission in promoting these programs we’ve developed.

So, what’s the take-home message? Do service willy nilly? Not hardly. But don’t shy away from it either. Everyone is busy, but your willingness to take on just a little more will be greatly appreciated &, to invoke some of my favorite evo theory, it is a costly honest signal of your willingness to cooperate that will reward you with unforeseen dividends!