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Some months ago I was promoted with a managing position inside the university (in my case, associated chair of my school, being for instance the head of admission committee and the director of doctoral studies). At least in my country, these jobs have a teaching reduction. However, my intention taking this position was to try to make contributions to the bad way that my university is doing right now.

However, I have encountered a really big issue that I was not expecting:

  1. The type of duties I have are really of ‘administrative’ nature. This means: preparing schedules of courses, preparing calendars of bachelor thesis defenses, preparing slides of how satisfied the students are with their courses. I found that there are no really ‘important’ duties to do, i.e., strategic duties.

  2. What worries me more: Due to all these monotone work, I am feeling discouraged about my research. For three months, I arrive home every day after dealing with this administrative things and say to myself: ‘Today is another day that you both did not finish several things, and even worse, you did not have even one hour to work on your projects.’

Some months ago I was somehow discouraged about my place in this university, but after taking this position I feel that I am going directly to a disaster. Either if some months ago I was a little tired (maybe burnout), I had still some energy and feeling happy making research. But now I had arrived at a point that I have started giving a deadline for this situation (December 2019), and if this does not change, start looking for something else outside academia.

What do you recommend to do? I have considered to talk with some senior professor here, and even to quit this administrative duty, but the thing that worries me more is that nowadays I have lost the passion I had for research that make me sense to stay at the university.

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    I don't have any particular advice, and indeed am eager to read the answers myself. But two things: (1) You are not alone, far from it. (2) Doing these mundane tasks well is, in fact, very important -- if not always appreciated as deeply as it should be. – academic Jul 1 at 19:34
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    I have discovered that at this point my administrative work has far more positive impacts on more people than my research ever did. – Randall Jul 1 at 20:14
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    @Randall That doesn't help OP. They want to do research, not help people, at this stage in their career. That may change later. – Captain Emacs Jul 1 at 20:16
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    @Gaussian-Matter Of course - but is your department of the same opinion? If not, you may need to switch. Also, 12 hours a day sounds like too much. Country? – Captain Emacs Jul 1 at 20:35
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    How much of this administration can be passed to administrative staff? My partner used to be an administrator at a British university, and this sounds very much like the sort of stuff she was responsible for, rather than one of the academics. (Some of the documents were sent out with a professor's name on it, but they would just have checked over what she wrote.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 2 at 15:25
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The situation is often discouraging but rarely hopeless. I had to do committee work along those lines, where any serious strategic thinking had been taken away from the committee.

There are several silver linings.

First you have discovered that you are not the administrative type, and from what you say you are unlikely to get fooled again. Next, you have an appreciation for how the system works, v.g. how important these surveys are to the administration etc.; you now also have an appreciation of who are the real “doers” and who are the simple paper pushers, not only in the administrative side but probably also in the academic side since you likely interacted with other faculty at some point. In other words, you now know potential allies and who to avoid to get things done.

I gave up on one particular committee because of lack of stimulation at the work and lack of open-mindedness by the administrators in charge: I cannot imagine making a career out of this work, but if some find this interesting thank God it’s them not me.

Given how hard it is to find academic positions, I would never quit because of administrative duties unless there was no escape. Enthusiasm should come back once the burden is gone.

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First, I absolutely do appreciate your disaffection with the situation.

I would wager that some of your disappointment is due to pointlessness of some of the administrative activities, or the pointlessness of trying to "over-perfect" things that only need to be "good enough".

Also, some administrative problems will never be solved/resolved, but only "stayed", and require a certain (perhaps small) effort forever. Expending more effort at this moment will not solve those problems. Staying up late will not solve the problems. They're like laundry or dishes that just have to be dealt with, regularly, and "doing a great job on laundry" this week will not really reduce the laundry burden for the next week.

But, yes, these administrative things are very important to keep things going. So there is some exercise of thought to see how much of one's motive force to allocate to "routine" tasks, etc.

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    +1 for great laundry/dishes analogy, especially the observation "doing a great job on laundry" this week will not really reduce the laundry burden for the next week. – Dave L Renfro Jul 2 at 8:52
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You may know the saying "if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well". The opposite is also true: "if a job is not worth doing, it is NOT worth doing well." Most administration falls into that category.

Take a step back and figure out how important your admin tasks really are. Admin work isn't like writing a paper, where poor work will be rejected, or be visible for the rest of your career.

To deal with your two examples: obviously organizing thesis defences is important, but whatever timetable you produce, most of the candidates will think they are being stressed by the time table. So don't waste a lot of time trying to do a "perfect" job - just get some dates in everyone's diaries, and move on.

For the slides showing student satisfaction: well, who will actually check whatever numbers you put on the slides? Everybody wants to hear the message that satisfaction is improving, or at least that it is not getting worse. Put together some numbers that tell them what they want to hear, and that's the job done. If it's only based on 80% of the data that might theoretically be available if you searched for it and chased up people who didn't supply it, don't waste your time chasing the other 20% - just use what you have.

To summarize: think about how your "admin" output is going to be used, and much of the work will probably disappear. The irony of management and administrative jobs is that they are often done by people who never find out how quick and easy management and administration really are, once you filter out all the tasks that are just creating random noise in the organisation.

  • Those are really great advices! – Gaussian-Matter Jul 2 at 11:59
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    I think this answer needs some more emphasis on the nuance between doing a "good enough" job and "making stuff up". Good enough is just fine. Making stuff up is misconduct. The difference is enormous. – eykanal Jul 2 at 14:39
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    When I read your paragraph about the student slides, it sounds like you're suggesting inventing or misrepresenting data. I really hope that's not what you're suggesting. – Carl Kevinson Jul 2 at 16:44
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    This answer reads like you're trying to say, "if you don't like a task, and you think you won't get caught, go ahead and fudge it." If there are administrative tasks that are truly not adding value, how about changing the system instead of just doing a half-hearted job? – dwizum Jul 2 at 19:35
  • This is an awful answer -- encouraging dishonest and irresponsible behavior. People who behave like this should be fired. People who give advice like this are not helping. – user52962 Jul 3 at 0:21
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From the job description and title it sounds like a job that is designed to take over some of the less strategic duties from the chair as well as administrative duties off the faculty. Hence you can end up doing lots of stuff no one wants to do (including yourself). One thing is you should be able to push back in both directions, and have the chair and faculty handle a bit more of their busy work, so you can focus on more strategic aspects of your role. Your tasks like preparing syllabi should be opportunities to plan the content and future direction of your field. If these strategic decisions are already made by someone else, then perhaps you can press them to also handle the time-consuming aspects of filling in detail while they're at it. Then you finally just pass the result along with a rubber stamp. Along those same lines you may be taking on a lot of work yourself that you can ask of someone else, even if it's not their job (either).

As for research, in my opinion the biggest problem with administrative duties is all the things that need to be done on short notice with a short deadline. This makes it really hard to block out time for other aspects of your job. Important things will just keep popping up. No time of day or day of the week is ever sacred. That block of time friday afternoons you always save for your writing is the only time everyone else saved too, so a big series of meetings gets put there. I don't have a lot of suggestions to offer there, other than to note that the cognitive load goes down as you get experience with the role, even if the workload doesn't. Research requires deep thinking, while you barely have to think to handle most administrative duties after a while. I'd give it some time and see if you still feel as overwhelmed with those same tasks after doing it a few more months and becoming fluent with the system and process.

Finally I'd note that everyone tends to feel this way about research a lot of the time, whether "too much" of their time is spent doing classes or writing proposals or whatever limited service they have to do. Only postdocs have it easy. So you might look into more general advice on this issue. Consider that you might be blaming your administrative duties a bit more than you should (and devoting more time than needed to them since the research has less attraction). Perhaps the most important thing is to find a direction that excites you again.

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The actual question: "What do you recommend to do?"

Answer: Get busy with your admin work and create time for your other priorities.

Explanation -- why this answer is useful and correct: Your institution is not wrong -- your job is not wrong -- you are wrong.

Academia is not so special that it can afford to pay people to not do their jobs. Everybody wants a paid hobby -- so far, you do not have one. Your desire to "fix" the University is colliding with an iron rule of the workplace -- and your pay should clear up any misapprehension you may have aabout just where you are -- and the rule is that you do not start out in charge.

You say that in the following duties: "preparing schedules of courses, preparing calendars of bachelor thesis defenses, preparing slides of how satisfied the students are with their courses," you have found nothing which you deem important. Yet when you were an undergraduate, weren't these invisible processes important to your very ability to attend class, much less to do great things?

You may feel that you have no duty to help others. This is where you are wrong, especially when you are being paid to do just that. You may misunderstand the purpose of a University, which at any rate is not to pay you to have fun thinking.

If you are worth your pay, then you will demonstrate the mental and moral fortitude to accept your tasks, do your best, prioritize things, take responsibility for how you spend your time, communicate your success and failures, desires and disappointments, and succeed despite adversity. If you cannot become the master of some administrative tasking, how on earth can you be trusted to do greater things?

It is not as though you have passed through this phase of life, excelled, and now have proper expectations of respect and deference. You simply do not wish to be bothered.

I encourage you to do just what you have said, and seek other employment. No need to wait around issuing deadlines to your benefactors, either. Just go now. Good luck.

I await the downvotes of those who always got a trophy for failure, and who prefer happytalk.

  • my contract at the university says that I MUST do teaching activities, research activities and management. Hence, I am paid for the three of them. – Gaussian-Matter Jul 3 at 6:23

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