Balancing the Three-Legged Stool

  • June 18, 2019

Recruiting Reviewers with a Service Mindset

Research. Teaching. Service. All are required of faculty, but are rarely balanced. “Service” always seems less defined and more difficult to pursue, thus unbalancing the notorious three-legged stool. But administrators have a built-in opportunity for helping faculty reach their service quota: encouraging them to become reviewers!

As the academic year winds down and campus quiets down from student activity, the environment flips inside labs and faculty offices. With a lighter or nonexistent teaching load and a more flexible schedule, faculty spend more time writing and conducting research. These activities often lead to more tangible outcomes like publications and increased grant funding, but are still only a part of their overall responsibilities.

In a few short weeks, students will return, classrooms will re-open, and office hours will become blocked off on the calendar once again. While the research process continues throughout the year, time must be allocated to the original purpose of higher education: teaching. For approximately 30 weeks, faculty will focus on sharing knowledge from their areas of expertise and mentoring the next generation of researchers and practitioners.

The rhythm of the academic year ebbs and flows to allow for high activity periods of research and teaching. So what about service? Service opportunities usually present themselves more sporadically--a committee here, a consulting project there. Depending on the field, the balance of internal vs. external service expectations can vary greatly, but it is often easier (and more fulfilling) to give back professionally to the campus community.

How can faculty fulfill their service requirements? By becoming reviewers and lending their expertise. Whether it’s approving poster topics for an undergraduate symposium or evaluating peers’ limited submission proposals, opportunities are always available. But a challenge arises in helping potential reviewers see these invitations as service in the midst of a full load of teaching and research.

Here are some tips to recruit and retain reviewers so there is always a full, diverse pool to pull from:

  • Start at the top. Invitations to review are more likely to be accepted when they come from a well-known person with decision-making power. Find out who should make the request, and get them to sign off on some well-crafted text. Or, even better, record a 30-second video appeal.
  • Ask in person. When will a high concentration of potential reviewers be in the same room together? Faculty senate meeting? State of the university address? Annual year-end celebration? Though it will not always be possible, being invited in person will give a higher yield of reviewers who actually complete their assigned reviews later on.
  • Time it right. There is never not a busy time in higher education. However, you can bet that invitations sent during the first or last weeks of each semester will get overlooked, or worse, sent straight to the trash. Segment your potential pool and target each group at a time that makes sense for them. Or play it safe with a weekday message around 10am--the time that gets the most open rates.
  • Don’t ask too much. Once they’re onboard to review, make sure they don’t get tapped too much and cause them to regret their service. Collect information upfront about their area(s) of expertise, interests, and known time constraints. Then assign them appropriately and give them the chance to decline each time, while encouraging them to remain in the pool for future opportunities.
  • Say thank you. It’s a simple thing, but it goes a long way (just like Mom said). The same tips apply: Do it in person (if possible) and have the message come from the person who did the initial asking. A handwritten note with a gift card to the on-campus coffee shop works well, too.

​Remind reviewers often that their contributions are valued as service to the campus community. That way, they will see future invitations as opportunities to engage with colleagues and students, while simultaneously bolstering the skinniest leg of their responsibilities stool.

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