Grad Student Corner (June 2019): Seeing Service as an Opportunity

By Megan Welsh posted 06-28-2019 18:28

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Erin Winters, University of California, Davis


Hi everyone!

Congratulations to everyone for surviving the academic year!! I had brilliant plans to write about summer planning but since summer is a third of the way over for most of the continent. I’m going to talk about different ways you can be productive while you’re in graduate school.  This way, when classes recommence in the fall (or late summer) you can become involved in new ways that will help serve your school (and your CV).


When you ask faculty and other students about productivity, the first thing that comes up is writing and research.  I’m not here to tell you that research isn’t (the most) important, but it isn’t the only way you can be productive and involved during graduate school. 

There is a part of the faculty hiring and retention process that also considers service. There are a lot of different ways graduate students can become involved in “service” activities including faculty searches, student government, advisory boards, and campus groups.

You can also get involved via professional groups (like NCME) and journal reviews, but I’m going to focus on campus-based opportunities.


During graduate school, I’ve been involved in two major service activities: student government and faculty searches. I started as a representative for the School of Education at the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) at large at UC Davis.  I voted on resolutions and GSA policies, as well as served on a team that awarded travel grants to graduate student applicants.  This served three major purposes: I got my foot in the door to serve on my education-specific GSA, I learned about the selection process for travel grants (AERA and NCME are not free!), and I got to add to my CV.  Now, I am the co-chair for the School of Education GSA, directly serving and representing the students at my school in conversations with the Dean and faculty members as they’re designing programs and making changes within my program.  This has the added benefit of serving as a huge networking opportunity; I get to work with faculty members outside of my immediate research interests that may be on my committee later, or who may need a statistics and measurement-minded graduate student researcher on a grant next year. Additionally, it gives me an opportunity to observe what it’s like to be a research faculty member.  I’m not saying that I know everything about it, but I have learned a lot about what goes on in the background.  It’s given me a lot to think about when it comes to planning my career.


Along those lines, there is one service activity that will not only help you network, but also help you understand the academic job search process: the faculty search committee.  I was lucky enough to serve on a faculty search committee last year.  As much as I’ve learned from The Professor is In, I learned ten times more serving on that committee.  Among other things, I learned how to read and interpret a job call and discovered what search members look for during the initial CV-review process (choosing who gets that first interview).  One thing that really surprised me was how much everyone considered match between the department and the applicant, and really thought about potential collaborations between applicants and existing faculty. Match may seem like a little thing, something you can explain away with a carefully worded line in your letter of interest, but it’s something that’s really carefully considered.  I could go on for so long about what I learned serving on that committee, but it’s really best learned by experience.  If nothing else, you will learn whether or not you want to go through it all yourself.


While I don’t have personal experience working on committees outside of my school, pay attention to those emails you get from your graduate student coordinator or campus administrative offices.  There are some really amazing opportunities to work with campus-level groups, committees and boards that will help you better understand higher education, make great connections with high-level university officials, and give you the opportunity to make an appreciable difference on campus.  For example, there is a Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on my campus that serves as student voice in meetings directly with the chancellor.  If you are interested in higher education, that’s the kind of opportunity you have to go for!  There are likely opportunities to work with diversity offices, instructional evaluation, and a myriad of other committees, and they’re probably looking for more help! 


One thing I can’t deny is that these things all take time-if you can add it to your CV, it will take some time. It’s likely that you’re all TAing or working as a graduate student researcher, so adding another thing can be really daunting.  I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard.  The two quarters that I was actively working on the search committee while getting ready to take over as Co-Chair of EdGSA, TAing, and working as a student researcher were the hardest 20 weeks of my life.  My adviser was right, I tried to do too much.  Don’t’be like me, don’t try to do it all at once. You will likely drink entirely too much coffee and sleep even less than you already do. If you can, pick one thing.  But if you can’t, please go to those job talks.  You’ll see what job talks should look like, be seen by faculty, and still be able to provide valuable feedback to the search committee.  Plus, the student that is serving on the committee will be really grateful.


I hope my little corner of the NCME newsletter gives you some food for thought, and I hope you all consider serving next year!


Author Note:

Erin Winters is a PhD student in Learning and Mind Sciences at the University of California at Davis.  Her interests include the application of multilevel measurement models in validity arguments and the reduction of test bias for non-neurotypical students.