Sunday, October 24, 2010

Off to Washington DC!

As an academic, my busy professional life is filled with research, teaching, and professional service activities. I often write on this blog about research and about teaching -- this post is about service.

The service activities that an academic may be involved in (let's say some do not engage in much service) take on numerous forms -- from internal service, that is, departmental, school-wide, and university service -- to professional service, which may require travel. The latter involves reviewing journal articles, serving on editorial boards, serving on society committees, on conference organizing committees, and other activities. I receive, on the average, requests to review 3 papers a week and professional service alone could keep me with a full workload if I were to accept everything that came my way.

(Note: much of the service that we do as faculty is "pro bono" and we do not get paid extra for it but it is essential to maintaining the integrity and sustainability of our disciplines and their growth and sustenance.)

Service also involves taking part in peer-review panels and in evaluating different proposals for funding. I have reviewed proposals for scientific agencies in Canada, Sweden, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Denmark, and Ireland, to name just a few. Also, I review proposals for scientific agencies in the U.S.

I will be out of town shortly to serve on a scientific review panel. Preparation entails reading thoroughly and carefully a pile of proposals and writing drafts of the evaluations. This takes place even before the face-to-face meeting and discussions with other panelists. Getting together in the DC area, where many of the major funding agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, etc.) are located and where the panels are convened, to see colleagues and to meet new ones, is always enriching intellectually. There are times of the year (Fall, late Spring and early Summer) during which the Washington DC area is quite beautiful; plus, several times during my flights to/from DC I have sat next to Congressmen, which always makes for stimulating conversations.

My suitcase is packed, my briefcase filled with proposals and my reviews, and I am looking forward to another trip to Washington DC!

Of course, my classes are covered, and when I return, I will be grading piles of midterm exams!