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The Precarities and Benefits of Academic Labor: Non-Profit Service Work

This blog post outlines how academic researchers and teaching faculty members can manage extracurricular service work without burning out. Academics often take on a significant amount of unpaid work, contributing to a culture of precarious labor within academia. This unpaid work includes activities such as reviewing manuscripts for journals, serving on committees, mentoring students, and participating in academic conferences. While these activities are essential for the functioning of the academic community and career advancement, they are often undervalued and go unrecognized in terms of compensation. This can lead to increased workload, burnout, and a lack of work-life balance for academics. The reliance on unpaid labor also contributes to inequities within academia, as those who can afford to work for free or have more secure positions may have more opportunities for career advancement compared to those who cannot.

Many academic scholars find themselves struggling to balance their research, teaching responsibilities, and service commitments. Service work, while important for the academic community, can often be time-consuming and overwhelming. Here are some steps to help scholars avoid overwork while still engaging in meaningful service work, both within and beyond the End-of-Life and Death Scholars nonprofit:

1. Acknowledge Academic Precarity. Overwork and under-compensation are pervasive issues across academic disciplines, often leading to feelings of burnout and frustration among scholars. Many academics find themselves working long hours, including evenings and weekends, without adequate compensation or recognition for their efforts. This can be especially challenging for scholars in fields where research funding is limited or where there is a heavy emphasis on teaching and service work. Nonprofit and extracurricular networking groups can help buffer feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community for academics facing these challenges. By centering the community aspect of these groups, scholars can find support, share resources, and build relationships that can help them navigate the demands of academia more effectively. Additionally, these groups can serve as advocates for change within academia, pushing for policies that promote better work-life balance and fair compensation for all scholars.

2. Know Your Value. Academic service work plays a crucial role in shaping the landscape of future scholarship by fostering collaboration, promoting diversity and inclusion, and ensuring the integrity of academic research. Engaging in service work allows academics to contribute their expertise to the broader academic community, helping to advance knowledge and scholarship in their field. Service work also helps to build networks and relationships with colleagues, both within and outside of academia, which can lead to new research opportunities and collaborations. Furthermore, academic service work is essential for promoting diversity and inclusion within the academic community by ensuring that a wide range of perspectives are heard and accurately represented. Overall, academic service work is invaluable in shaping the direction of future scholarship and ensuring the continued growth and development of academic disciplines. All of this is to say that you, as an academic, provide immense value in your commitments.

3. Communicate Your Value. Communicating the value of academic service work to academic audiences, including future workplaces, is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it helps to raise awareness about the importance of service work in academia, highlighting its role in supporting research, fostering collaboration, and promoting diversity and inclusion. This, in turn, can help encourage more academics to engage in service work actively, ensuring a diverse and robust pool of individuals contributing to the academic community. Additionally, the academic career landscape often does not understand or recognize the hard and soft skills that are involved in extracurricular and nonprofit academic service work. This deserves to be recognized by academia at large, as these skills are transferable and valuable in various professional settings. By communicating the value of service work, academics can help to ensure that it is recognized and valued by future workplaces, both within and outside of academia. This can lead to increased support and resources for service work, ultimately benefiting the academic community as a whole. Overall, communicating the value of academic service work is essential for ensuring its continued importance and impact in shaping the future of scholarship.

4. Prioritize Your Commitments. Identify the most important service roles for your specific professional development goals. Focus on these and consider saying no to additional requests that may not align with your priorities.

5. Set Boundaries. Establish clear boundaries around your time and workload. Communicate these boundaries to colleagues and collaborators to manage expectations.

6. Schedule Your Time. Block off specific times for service work in your calendar. Treat these blocks of time as you would any other meeting or commitment. This is also a way to take time back for yourself – do not overcommit your time to any service work or project.

7. Say No. It's okay to decline service requests that you don't have the capacity to take on. Directly decline excess labor that does not align with your goals and offer alternative suggestions if possible.

8. Collaborate with Others. Consider collaborating with colleagues on service projects. This can help distribute the workload and provide a fresh perspective on the work. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

9. Practice Self-Care. Take care of your physical and mental health. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Extracurricular service work should not come at the sacrifice of self-care.

10. Reflect on Your Commitments. Regularly review your service commitments and assess whether they align with your long-term goals and values. Adjust your commitments as needed.

By following these guidelines, academic scholars can avoid overwork and communicate their expertise, commitments, and intrinsic value while engaging in meaningful service work that benefits both their academic community and themselves. This is especially important for end-of-life, death, and bereavement scholars who often engage in socially, physically, and psychologically precarious research and teaching as a result of their research interests -- it is important to acknowledge the enormity and labor of this work beyond the capacity to publish research.

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