The department I work at is one of four departments of the Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Information Technology of the University of Zurich. The PhD students of each department get to send one representative to the faculty assembly. One of these four, also gets to attend the faculty board meetings. At the moment, that’s me. Recently, some of my friends asked me what I’m getting out of doing this job. In this post, I try to answer that question.
One obvious gain from attending faculty meetings, is that you learn how a faculty works internally. Next to day-to-day politics, you also get to see how the hiring process at a university works from the “employer’s perspective”. If you even only remotely consider an academic career, seeing this first hand might be a valuable experience for you.
Another experience that I would not want to miss, is being able to observe and listen to the strategic discussions of a group of very high-profile people. You have to imagine, next to the secretaries, the student representative and me, the faculty board consists of the dean, the deputy deans, the representatives of all four departments (often the department heads) and a representative of the private lecturers. This is a group of very smart and experienced people and I’m often impressed by how well-thought-out certain arguments from members of this group are. I feel privileged to be able to learn from them.
A skill that you learn doing this job (and that I’ve admittedly not yet mastered), is being able to process large quantities of information in a relatively short period of time. A typical faculty meeting (board or assembly) takes 3+ hours and all participants receive between 90 and 140 pages of text about a week before the meeting. This material can contain anything from CVs of prospective new faculty to commission reports and propositions from various stakeholders. While all of the information is obviously important enough to be an agenda item, there is simply not enough time to study everything in detail. In the beginning, studying the material would easily take up my whole Sunday afternoon. After a while though, I learned to shorten down my preparation time, by only reading the parts that are most important to me in detail and skim-reading the rest.
Also, being a representative gives you a chance to train your networking muscle. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of that networking business and I also feel uncomfortable meeting too many new people at the same time. And believe me, there are a lot of new people when you enter the faculty assembly with 70+ professors for the first time. The good thing though is: It gets better after the first couple of times. After only a year, I actually know quite a few people who work in departments other than my own, and I have the feeling that this broadened my perspective in many ways.
Finally, it is rewarding to give something back to the community. Talking to my peers, they tell me that they appreciate my work and the time I devote to this. Also, being able to put that representative position onto your CV, shows a prospective employer something about you and most certainly won’t hurt your job hunt, either. So, if you ask me if I would do it again, absolutely!