Women In Academia

Do You Use the Services?

The title is not particularly catchy. None of mine usually are, to be honest, but at least in this case, it is accurate. Without further (or any, really) exposition, let’s get down the heart of the matter: universities offer many services that appear to be underutilized. I want to talk about this a little bit and then I want to hear from you; specifically, I want to know whether you use the services offered by your university and why.

Perhaps a little more exposition is necessary. My university offers a lot of different services, some of which are free, like TA/new instructor training seminars/workshops, and some of which cost some money, like grant editing. Often times, university employees and students make use of the services just by default (see mandatory training, the nice grant officer that has to run the grant submission site, etc). These services, I expect, are somewhat taken for granted, sort of like the ingredients of a cake to someone who doesn’t bake: I don’t know what makes the chocolate cake so great, but boy do I enjoy the finished product.

So given that so many services are taken for granted, I would not be surprised that many potentially helpful services are widely underutilized. For example, many different programs offer grant writing training workshops and teaching workshops. For people early in their career, these can be particularly helpful. However, these workshops and training sessions are usually not particularly well attended and I have some trouble seeing why.

The most obvious explanation is that we are all busy and who has the time. That’s definitely true, but it also follows that here an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It doesn’t help when you have zero ounces of everything. It’s also hard to think more long term when the near future is so peppered with deadlines and stressors. I don’t know about you, but get me in a high stress situation and I get weird temporal tunnel vision.

But even if people could make these workshops and training sessions and utilize the services to the full extent possible, is the university advertising these services enough? Given the huge amounts of email people get daily, I can’t imagine that a weekly flier of “look what’s available and going on now” is going to catch anyone’s eye. So what can be done to maximize awareness (ugh what a heavy word for such a light topic)?

4 replies on “Do You Use the Services?”

When I was a grad student, I got a weekly email with announcements for such events from our graduate student office, and our departmental graduate coordinator would also forward interesting programs. However, I have to say that I didn’t take advantage of a lot of the programs that were offered – they either conflicted with departmental seminars (that I was required to go to) or they cost money. I am very fortunate to have a relatively good support system/group of mentors that can help with the discipline specific stuff – writing fellowship proposals, writing meeting abstracts, writing papers, helping with effect presentations, etc. And I was a returning student who had worked outside of academia for several years. I didn’t really need a lot of help (now) with resume/CV/cover letter stuff or how to network or other similar things for finding a first job out of school. In fact, I was helping my peers with that sort of information. So, I guess having a good support system or network trumps the seminars/workshops, in my case.

As a post-doc at the same university, I still a weekly email with announcements, and I glance over it. But a lot of the stuff is geared more towards graduate students, e.g. graduate student teaching week. There have been several announcements for things like how to write a teaching philosophy, how to approach a job search for a faculty position, how to write a first grant, but since that’s not the track I want my career to go in, I haven’t taken advantage of those. I’d like to see more on non-traditional careers in science (i.e. not just becoming a professor or going to work in industry… neither of those are appropriate for me.), but those workshops/seminars are few and far between. I am mulling over the idea of trying to become part of our post-doc association to see if our university would include a broader range of seminar topics. But I’ve only been a post-doc since October, and there’s only so many hours in the day.

Finally, just last week I got a letter from our post-doc office about other services offered by the university, just as nutritional counseling, or help finding legal services, or help with elder care, etc. I really didn’t know that the university offered help with that for post-docs. (I knew there were such services for faculty members and academic staff). I plan on looking into those programs in more detail after the holiday stress lets up a bit.

My university is tiny. It used to be that workshops like resume writing, grant writing, GIS supplement workshops, non-violent communication- they were all free. But now, because the school apparently needs to suck what little monetary funds the students actually have, they can cost (and often do) cost upwards of $100. I did take advantage of a few such workshops while they were still free, but now I am pretty much guaranteed to pass up every single thing. There is a grant coordinator for the school, but he’s incredibly hard to actually get a response from….

I *wish* there were more services at my school…

I know my school offered a free (I think free) 3 meeting grant writing program. The problem? It was offered from 12 to 1 on Fridays. Which is also the time that the EEB department has its weekly seminar. Actually, most of the programs offered fall from 12 to 1 or 1 to 2 on Friday. So that’s why I don’t utilize them…they are at a bad time.

Also, as an undergrad at the same school, I visited the Career Development Center for CV/resume help and how to go about finding a grad school help, and they were useless for anything related to grad school. The resume help they gave was literally: You don’t need bullet points. So I see why people don’t use the CDC at my school. No one has had a good experience there.

I had similar experience when I went to my university’s career center. At the time I wasn’t thinking about going to grad school, but I was looking into gifted ed. They had absolutely NOTHING to help me. And what they did have were just books that gave little blurbs about the field I could just have easily obtained through Google.

I’m sure had I been doing something more mainstream they would have been of more help, and the career center also threw a number of good free events such as mock interviews and such, but damn.

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