Recognizing Graduate Student Service Work Beyond Compensation (guest post by Angela Sun et al)


The following is a guest post* by  Angela Sun (Michigan), Carolina Flores (Rutgers), Milana Kostic (UCSD), Elise Woodard (Michigan), and Jingyi Wu (UC Irvine), graduate students in philosophy who comprise the organizing team of Minorities and Philosophy (MAP). It follows up on a previous guest post by MAP, “Compensate Graduate Students for Service Work.”

painting by Naota Hattori

A survey run by Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) last year found that graduate students from marginalized backgrounds shoulder a disproportionate burden of service work in their departments. The lopsided distribution of service work at the graduate student level prefigures what we find at the faculty level, which has been shown to have damaging effects on research and publication records.

In order to make the profession more inclusive, it is therefore imperative to recognize, compensate, and more fairly distribute service work. What should we do now?

In our initial report, we offered several suggestions to help give graduate student service work the recognition it deserves. But following our Group Session on the recognition of service work at the Eastern APA, we want to start a conversation about five under-discussed issues regarding service work recognition, and offer further suggestions for departments — and the profession at large — to better recognize service work.

1. Providing professional (in addition to monetary) compensation for service work

In discussions about compensating graduate student service work, departments are generally encouraged to provide financial compensation for graduate students for performing service work. Suggestions often include offering stipends of a few hundred dollars to graduate students who take on particularly demanding service positions or awarding cash prizes each year to graduate students who are especially active.

Financial compensation for service work is extremely important. But it’s not enough. Importantly, relying on financial compensation for service work incentivizes students with lower incomes or more debt to take up more service work, without giving them concrete professional benefits that will help them further their careers. A few hundred dollars certainly means a lot to struggling graduate students, but what graduate students who take on service work really need are these tangible professional rewards that will serve them well on the job market.

Here are a few suggestions for things departments can do to ensure a more equitable distribution of service work among graduate students. First, compensation shouldn’t only involve monetary prizes, but perhaps also release from teaching responsibility or additional semesters of fellowship, especially for particularly onerous service tasks. Second, keeping better records of who is doing service work (by, for instance, having clearly delineated service roles, maintaining a spreadsheet of who’s taking on what service role and ensuring that every graduate student is assigned at least one) can help ensure that no one is put in a position where they have to do more than their fair share.

2. Requesting service statements from job market candidates

Financial compensation for service work is important, but not enough; graduate students need professional in addition to monetary rewards for their service work. One thing departments can do to provide such concrete professional rewards is requiring service statements alongside research and teaching statements from job applicants. By submitting a service statement, graduate students who do service work can get a reasonable leg up on the job market, and departments requiring service statements can clearly signal that they value that work.

Many hiring departments currently require diversity statements that ask applicants to explain their experience with and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Although diversity statements can give applicants a chance to highlight their service work and diversity labor, some participants in our APA session noted that diversity statements can also harm job applicants. Less sympathetic departments might write off applicants who write passionate diversity statements and consider them less likely to get tenure. Because service statements have many of the good-making features of diversity statements—like providing an opportunity for applicants to discuss their work in service of diversity and inclusion—without the downsides, when possible departments should consider replacing diversity statements with service statements in their job searches.

In addition to conferring professional benefits to graduate students who do service work, service statements will help normalize service work at the graduate student level. A faculty member’s job is divided into three parts: research, teaching, and service. Though they may be differentially weighted at different institutions, typically all three are considered when faculty go up for tenure. Why, then, is service regarded as an optional part of the graduate student’s job? If service work were not seen as merely voluntary at the graduate student level, there would much more likely be an equitable distribution of service work among graduate students, and minority students would feel less pressure to take on more than their fair share.

3. Recognizing informal service work

Service positions are often taken on “officially”. But a lot of the service work done by philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds is difficult if not impossible to put on a CV: informally mentoring students from marginalized backgrounds, advising students at other universities who lack institutional support at their home departments, etc. These roles are often emotionally demanding, and because they resist taxonomy, they are especially susceptible to going unrecognized and uncompensated. Philosophers who don’t do this kind of informal service work often don’t realize it’s being done at all.

One way that we can alleviate the burden of informal service work on philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds is to encourage faculty in general to do more mentorship. Often, informal mentorship roles do not require special insight that only philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds have. All philosophers, for instance, should be able to provide general job market advice to graduate students, regardless of whether they belong to an underrepresented group.

One thing departments can do to encourage all faculty to serve as mentors is to regularly host mentorship workshops that give faculty a better idea of how they can support graduate students. If more faculty stepped up and assumed some of these informal mentorship roles that don’t require special qualifications, faculty who do have those qualifications would have more time and energy to fulfill their mentorship roles.

4. Addressing over-concern with image

Departments and professional organizations that run diversity initiatives are often very concerned with image. It’s common for departments to unofficially require that at least one philosopher from an underrepresented background sit on every committee, and that only philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds sit on committees related to diversity and inclusion.

How things look at the front-end is important, but these considerations need to be tempered with concern about fixing the problems that lead to underrepresentation in the first place. Requiring minority philosophers to sit on every committee is hugely demanding. Moreover, enforcing diversity on the front-end is not the best way of fixing the deeper structural problems in the profession, as the front-end initiative might direct attention away from and further trivialize the lived experiences of people from marginalized backgrounds.

In response to these worries about over-concern with image, faculty and graduate students who do not belong to marginalized groups should be encouraged to do more diversity work.

Philosophers who are not from underrepresented groups tend to shy away from diversity labor, thinking that they are ill-equipped and underqualified for it. Often, they are even explicitly instructed not to do this labor. But this kind of thinking is counterproductive and creates more time-intensive and emotionally demanding work for minority philosophers. How things look on the front-end matters, but we should balance considerations of image with effective solutions to structural problems that cause philosophers from underrepresented backgrounds to be overburdened with service work.

5. Initiating a conceptual shift

Since publishing our service work report, we’ve heard many ideas for ensuring that service work gets compensated. Perhaps professional organizations can offer prizes that recognize outstanding service contributions from faculty and graduate students. Or perhaps graduate student unions should fight for unionized positions for diversity labor, which can offer special protections that hourly or stipend pay for service work cannot.

As promising as all of these suggestions are, they let departments off the hook for failing to do what they ought to. Departments have budgets, and if their budget doesn’t allow for them to compensate, say, all the instructors they need to fill their classes, then they can’t offer all those classes. Similarly, it was brought up during our APA Group session that if a department’s budget does not allow for them to compensate graduate students and faculty for service work, then those roles should not necessarily get filled.

If we are to take the academic tripartite of research, teaching, and service seriously, then we need to start thinking about service as we do the other two aspects—as an essential part of being an academic philosopher that deserves recognition, at the graduate school level as much as at the faculty level.


We would like to thank participants in the MAP Group Session at the 2020 Eastern APA for their thoughtful comments. Thanks especially to Arianna Falbo, Sukaina Hirji, and C. Thi Nguyen and Angela Sun for sharing their experiences and insights as panelists.

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Henri Perron
Henri Perron
1 year ago

Perhaps there is too much emphasis (in the sense of demanding or expecting) placed on service already. Even among faculty, it seems that most seem to find the service required of them to be a drag (I’ve never encountered anybody who *wanted* to be department chair). The only service position that ever seemed to be somewhat enjoyable was some sort of chaperone position for dinners with guest speakers or philosophy club. Not to say that service isn’t good or can’t be enjoyable, but it seems overdone.

A danger particular to graduate students is that service can sometimes seem like more of a distraction from writing one’s dissertation than anything else. Making it required seems like it’d just generate more (not necessarily needed) work just to make sure everyone is given some extra work to do.

Moreover, it seems almost tragic to imagine service being accepted in place of teaching which is, after all, at the very heart of what being a career philosopher is about.Report

Avalonian
1 year ago

Many of these proposals sound great, I love the Service Statement idea; perhaps faculty could be asked to write Service Letters for people. After all, regardless of what you think about the plight of underrepresented groups, every department wants to know if someone is up for service before they hire them. No-one should be against fair compensation for service work and fair recognition for it as well.

But I’d just like to repeat that the initial study re:disproportionate work done by underrepresented grads “found” nothing at all, because it asked 1.3 grads per department to share their impressions of who was doing the work, and those grads were already involved in MAP. It is intrinsically suspicious that more grads weren’t polled and I urge the authors to re-run the study in consultation with experts on data collection, so as to dispel this suspicion. You are trying to convince everyone that there is a problem, so conduct and rely on studies that can be recognized by everyone as having evidentiary value. Otherwise, you give lots of people reason to distrust this message and this compromises your (laudable) aim of ensuring fairness.

Finally, re: #4: people aren’t requiring that women and minorities make up committees because of a concern for “How things look at the front-end”. They are doing so because decades of advocacy have been deployed against departments who allow all-male or all-white committees to make decisions. And not for bad reasons at all… you know… nothing about us without us? It’s a good principle, and I’d like to know if these MAP members are proposing that we drop it.Report

Trevor Hedberg
Trevor Hedberg
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

To build on one of the main points mentioned in Avalonian’s comment, here are some highlights from the “Methodology” section of the report that the authors conducted:

Total number of respondents: 61
Number of universities we gathered information on: 40 (plus 7 responses from unknown departments)
Number of universities with only MA programs: 3
92% of respondents identified as members of underrepresented groups in philosophy.
The survey was distributed via emails to the listserv for the MAP chapter representatives, 2 posts on the MAP Facebook page, 1 twitter update to the MAP account, and one post on the APA blog.

The results are coming from such a small and non-representative sample of graduate students in the profession that the data collected just doesn’t establish the existence of the problem that the post is based on. The fact that almost all respondents appear to have had affiliation with MAP makes the results appear even more suspicious. I reiterate the request to survey using better methods and acquire a more representative sample so we can get clearer on the extent of the problem. If you’re going to propose radical changes to professional norms (e.g., a service statement), those proposals should be supported by robust evidence that there’s a serious problem in need of being addressed.Report

jobseeker
jobseeker
1 year ago

I really appreciate the hard work of the authors and other members of MAP. These are really helpful ideas. But as someone who has spent a long time on the job market, I really hope the idea of a service statement does not catch on. Please, please, please don’t make us write more for job applications. The process takes an enormous amount of time as it is. There is very little chance that the requirement will be adopted in a uniform way, meaning that a new service statement would likely need to be crafted for many of the departments that ask for one. And in general, a proposal to help graduate students that requires *even more* work by graduate students (and recent PhDs) doesn’t seem like the best option.Report

SC member, former applicant
SC member, former applicant
Reply to  jobseeker
1 year ago

I agree, especially since there is already a place to mention important service: it’s called a cover letter.Report

Rob
Rob
1 year ago

I’m a bit skeptical of the advantages of a “service statement.” It’s just one additional thing to add to an application. And while it would allow the applicant to highlight something that might otherwise be missed, I wonder whether it is highlighting something that hiring committees actually care about. At my university, service is contractually listed at 15% of faculty workload. Quite small compared to teaching and research. Further, I want a research statement because I care about research and am trying to figure out whether that person’s research is interesting, fits into our department, and is sustainable. But I rarely have the same questions about a candidate’s service aptitude. Perhaps we should value service more and be more concerned with candidates who demonstrate an aptitude for it (and by implication, an aptitude that makes them unique or stand out, so an aptitude that is unique to them in some way). But I’d need to see a persuasive argument for this.Report

Diogenes of Sinope
Diogenes of Sinope
1 year ago

So a bunch of minority grad students set up committees to advance their own interests, then ask for recognition for doing so?Report

Hombre blanco
Hombre blanco
1 year ago

I’d be curious to see more numbers on the amount of service done by different groups of people. In my grad program I was the president of the phil grad students for three years, the president of a graduate-school level group for parents for two years, was the department’s accreditation rep for four years, and headed up formal and informal mentoring programs for undergrads, among other things. So I was doing at least triple the service of anyone else in the program, regardless of diversity category.

As a parent it’s also frustrating for me to see all this stuff about “marginalized backgrounds” without recognition of the fact that having children as a philosopher marginalizes you permanently across the entire profession, without any of the corresponding benefits that other “marginalized” folks receive, such as special scholarships, mentoring programs, and hiring advantages.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Hombre blanco
1 year ago

Of course it’s true that having children has major effects on your life in general and your available time in particular. But I don’t understand the claim that “having children as a philosopher marginalizes you permanently across the entire profession”. The vast majority of professional philosophers I know have children.Report

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Yeah, I think that’s right, there’s not much reason to think parents are marginalized. In fact, most professors have kids.

But it’s worth mentioning, perhaps, that 45% of tenured women (generally, couldn’t find data for philosophy) are childless; 26% of tenured men are childless. That’s a rate much higher than the general population for women, but not for men—about 15% of women over 40 are childless, and 24% of men aged 40 to 50 are childless.

That might at least make one wonder if there’s something worth looking at here.Report

Andy
Andy
Reply to  Hombre blanco
1 year ago

In addition to what David Wallace says (which is correct) you choose to have children. You don’t choose to be marginalized on the basis of e.g. race, gender, or disability.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Andy
1 year ago

That said, it would be really bad if people with children were marginalized, even if it is a choice! I just don’t think it’s correct that they are.Report

Andy
Andy
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I agree, and I take back what I said. I took OP to be suggesting that if there should be compensatory benefits for marginalized groups then there should be for parents as well. This struck me as wrong even if parents are marginalized because you choose to be a parent. However, on reflection, it is a choice people should be free to make without the risk of marginalization.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
1 year ago

Here’s another problem. What if your conception of ‘service’ or ‘giving back to the community’ consists in working for a political cause of which some hiring departments might disapprove? What if you were active in opposing what you deemed to be pernicious policies within the department or the university in which you were employed? The proposal would effectively discriminate in favour of those with a ‘safe’ conception of service and against those with an ‘unsafe’ conception. .Report

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

Cool, here’s a sample question:

“Please type in the box below a statement expressing your perspective regarding and aptitude for completing bureaucratic bullshit (5,000 word limit).”Report

Led
Led
1 year ago

My agreement with this post starts and ends with this thesis: departments should freaking pay grad students who do service for the department. I enthusiastically agree with that one. A required service statement sounds like a terrible, terrible idea: it would easily lead to more drudgery or bullshit work required of grad students, just to make a plausible-sounding service statement. That’s apart from the added work of crafting a bunch of tailored service statements to different departments. And why on earth would it be an improvement to extend the tripartite expectation (which is reasonable for people with the brass ring of a tenure-track position) onto graduate students?Report

recent phd
recent phd
1 year ago

I’m open to the idea that departments should do a bit more mentoring, but I found large portions of the “service” work done by other graduate students to be trivial and time wasting. During my PhD I had zero interest in being lectured by 22 year olds on, e.g., “imposter syndrome,” and I see no reason why the profession should reward these activities.Report

PhD Student
PhD Student
1 year ago

Service in grad school is complicated for people with children. It’s the first thing I cut when I had kids. I worry that a service statement would mischaracterize the willingness of applicants with children to serve. If I secure a TT position, I could afford daycare and would be willing to do a lot more. I don’t want to be penalized for doing less because I can’t afford it.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  PhD Student
1 year ago

And when you can afford daycare, you still won’t be available for most of the evening events and activities, traveling will be harder, and you may get called in the middle of the day because your child has a fever, and some of your community service might actually be volunteering at your daycare center, and you may very well not have any parental leave, and if you do it’ll be unpaid… Having children is wonderful but it’s clear that if it is going to conflict with some part of your job, it is likely to be service, especially (but not just) when you’re a grad student or a postdoc. You could certainly explain all of that in your “service statement” but that doesn’t mean it will not hurt you.Report