Service Statement: Beat Overcommitment

Service to your institution and to the broader mathematical community is an invigorating experience. Whether its connecting with people to provide opportunities for engagement in mathematics, opening doors for youth who wouldn’t have access otherwise, or filling a need in your department, service is an inherently important function of an academic. One of the challenges for junior mathematicians is determining what service initiatives to become involved with. It is easy for us to be excited about many service opportunities, only to later realize we’ve become extremely overcommitted. Many friends of mine who are tenure-track faculty find themselves especially challenged in this capacity, finding that their service commitments greatly impact the time they spend on scholarship.

This is especially true for underrepresented mathematicians. As one of the only faculty in several underrepresented groups on my campus I receive an extraordinarily disproportionate amount of service requests. There is no feasible way for me to participate in all of these opportunities even if my job was solely those commitments. So what does one do to reduce their service load?

One strategy is to set a hard limit on the number of service requests one engages in for a given window of time; for example, committing to only 3 service initiatives in a particular semester. Personally, a real difficulty with this is dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out). The challenge I have found with deciding what service to engage in is not saying no to the things that I don’t want to do, but saying no to the many things that I am intrinsically motivated to participate in.

In order to approach this service overcommitment dilemma I asked myself a fundamental question: without specific details, what can I offer to the mathematical community that is something I am passionate about, something that is not commonly offered, and something that I feel would be my unique contribution. This lead to my service statement:

“Empowerment, engagement and inclusion through mathematical problem solving.”

A brief introduction: I entered the mathematical world through high school math competitions. Contests set the foundation for the opportunities that lead to my career path. During the time I was involved in these programs, I always noticed a striking issue of underrepresentation in these arenas. Combining my interest in mathematical problem solving with addressing issues of underrepresentation in mathematics, I’ve decided to make my service statement all about using mathematical problem solving as a vehicle to increase representation in math.

So how does this help with the service dilemma? When propositioned with a service request I now ask one simple question before deciding to accept or reject: “Is this in line with my service statement?” If no, I am very likely to say no. This has allowed me to focus my service on issues I am deeply passionate about. It has reduced my stress around completing service tasks significantly. Moreover, it has labeled me in the community as a go-to person for my initiative. This has opened doors to many opportunities that lie right along-side my goals.

I high recommend a service statement. It has been a tremendous help in managing my contributions to the community, and engaging in a wholeheartedly fulfilling way.

About Mohamed Omar

Mohamed Omar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College
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