Many of us want to end up as professors one day. As a result, we are juggling conducting and disseminating research, and teaching on top of our coursework, while trying to maintain somewhat of a social/home life. A few of you lucky ones who are further along, get to do all this while looking for a job too.
We are blessed here at Texas A&M to have numerous resources to help us accomplish all the aforementioned. From the University Writing Center to the Center for Teaching Excellence to University Libraries, we have a wealth of people and information to help us along the way.
However, one thing that is important, but never explicitly articulated, is the importance of being a good departmental citizen. To be honest, I had not heard the term before I started here. It first came up when I was meeting with my former interim department chair about how to make the most out of my assistantship and degree. Like many of you, I would like to be an assistant professor on the tenure-track at a R1 institution after I graduate. After listing the usual three things (publications, teaching experience, and work on grants), he stressed the importance of being a good departmental citizen and how it is something department heads look for when hiring new faculty.
I am just now starting my second year in my program, thus have had the opportunity to witness how undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty all interact in my department. And I’m telling y’all, being a good departmental citizen makes a difference.
I offer five ways on how to do this from my informal observations:
- Say hi to people
I know this sounds obvious and a no-brainer but this takes effort and energy, especially since you want to come off as genuine and sincere. You should not only greet people but make small talk too. Your goal is not to have a 5 minute conversation with everyone and trap them in the hallway! The idea is to exchange quick, simple pleasantries. You can talk about anything, it does not have to be personal. Any A&M sport, the weather, the leftovers you brought for lunch, anything can make a small talking point. This will help you be seen as approachable and friendly.
- Meet 1:1 with faculty
This is a great way to get to know faculty in your department, even if you do not study the same constructs or want them on your committee. Schedule a 30 minute meeting and bring 5-6 prepared questions. You will find you may talk for more than that and they will end up asking you a lot of questions too. Faculty talk amongst themselves a lot, thus this is a good way to build your rapport. Like my first piece of advice, sincerity and being genuine are vital here too. You do not have to know or understand everything about someone’s research but reviewing their CV prior is a great way to get ideas for questions.
- Volunteer/Be present
Service is included in many faculty job descriptions, therefore this is a good habit to develop as a graduate student. While formal roles such as serving on a search committee should appear on your CV, other roles such as having meals with prospective students will not, but are highly valued. Chaperoning guests between appointments, attending meet and greets with your departmental advisory board, showing up for coffee and donuts to welcome the new faculty hire, etc. show you care about the success of your department and not just your own priorities. Furthermore, responding to emails as to why you cannot volunteer goes a long way as well. I recently sent one to our administrative assistant and she responded “No worries! You helped last time”. People notice your visibility in the department.
- Holiday cards
We are all on a graduate student budget, so I am not advocating for you to go out to Hallmark and purchase 50 cards for everyone that has an office or a mailbox in your department. However, holiday greetings do go far. And by holiday, I mean anything that is appropriate for the culture of your office. New Year’s, Thanksgiving, May the Force (May 4th
) - these are a few non-religious holidays that are inclusive of everyone. There are several discount stores where you can buy inexpensive cards in bulk for a few dollars. Or you can send an e-card. Alternatively, if your department has a centralized place where they post announcements, tack your photo holiday card there for all to enjoy (especially if you included your pets – everyone loves pets!).
This could be because I am in the college of Ag, but every now and then homegrown peppers or tomatoes show up on our break room table with a “take some home!” sign. It’s one of my favorite things about my department. People also bring in leftover cakes and cheesecakes. Again, I am not advocating for you to go out and spend money but if you made too much of something or have sweet treats leftover from a gathering, it does not hurt to bring them into the office. If anything, your fellow graduate students will deeply appreciate you.
I hope you find these helpful. One faculty member in our department stated, “We are all being interviewed on a daily basis”. This is true. While we like to think of the job search as objective, faculty and administrators across different institutions connect with each other about upcoming vacancies for post docs, assistant professors, department chairs, deans, etc. Being a good departmental citizen will benefit you in those moments.
Please share in the comments if you have other ideas that have worked for or been suggested to you!
Sakina Dixon is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications