In a post about work-life balance at Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns (Utrecht) writes: “it would help if we would all agree that we should do our fair share of the slack & service work, and what that would entail”.
The idea is that demands of disciplinary service work (refereeing papers, writing tenure and promotion assessments, serving on PhD-examination committees, assessing grant proposals, etc.) will be reduced if each of us contributed adequately. But how much is that?
Dr. Robeyns proposes the following heuristic: “Reciprocity + 1”.
I think the only way to reduce workloads is that we all commit to the rule of “reciprocity + 1”. This means, you do as much of this work as you demand from the system (= our colleagues!), plus you add a little bit extra to what you do in order to give the system some oxygen. Many of these types of peer-assessment are generally not done by (very) junior scholars, yet junior scholars also take part in this system. Many PhD candidates submit papers to journals, yet many of them do not yet have the expertise to review papers themselves. So in order to add oil to these machineries, I think we need to be willing to review [the number of referee reports we have received as well as one for the editor’s work + 1 for each paper we submitted in order to add oxygen/oil to the system]. If you submit a paper and receive 2 reports, you should be willing to contribute 4 referee reports to the system. I am pretty sure most of us can (roughly) reconstruct such an overview/balance sheet for ourselves and then keep track towards the future. If you’ve received more from the system than what you’ve given, you have a strong reason not to decline when asked to review; when you’ve given more than what you’ve asked according to the “reciprocity +1” rule, you can decline without feeling guilty. This should be a norm we impose on ourselves, since otherwise we add to the workload of others by not doing our fair share (and to the workload of the editors who have to work endlessly to find reviewers). If we would all accept this rule, and stick to it, it should also reduce the turn-over time for journal submissions, which is another bonus effect.
Clearly, this might have as an effect that some people will discover that they should review more and will have less time to write papers; but that would be fine, since first of all one might think that there are already too many papers published, and secondly, these extra-papers would otherwise be written by freeriding on the work of others—and hence on taking from their leisure and family time.
Dr. Robeyns is aware that norms for individual decision-making are only part of a comprehensive approach to addressing work-life balance, and in her post takes up some institutional proposals, too. You can read the whole post here.
As for “Reciprocity + 1”: what do you think? Will it help? Is this your norm? Is there a better alternative? Discussion welcome.