A Mess of Committees

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I’ve been a little quiet for the past few months. I would like to say that it’s because of a productive research period, with sparks flying and analysis exploding and papers being thoroughly digested. Unfortunately, this semester has been absorbed almost completely by something else – committees.

My mother was very fond of committees. Some of my earliest memories involve being plonked on the floor of a meeting room with a juice box and colouring in book while my mum rallied support for heritage buildings, organised school fairs or penned publications on behalf of a local arts committee. I thought she was crazy. I never had any interest in committees until I was working in the public sector and suddenly being on committees was a primary part of my role. I left the public sector and seemed to go through minute-writing withdrawal. I picked up committees along the way until things hit fever pitch levels in Semester 2 of 2015.

This semester I have been:

  • A UWA Unimentor
  • Chair of the Geography and Environment Study Group
  • Human Geography representative for the School of Earth and Environment
  • Committee Member on the newly formed Sessional Staff Association
  • Media Officer for the UWA Postgraduate Students’ Association
  • Postgraduate Representative on the Faculty of Science Teaching and Learning Committee

As well as teaching in two units, finishing my data collection, and applying for a few awards. It’s probably no surprise my research is suffering!

But in a strange way this experience has fed into my research. For one of my papers I’m trying to create a ‘map of influence’ for regional community members and their discussions about solar energy. Who talks to who, what they know and why. The finding is obvious but also heartening. Key individuals who function across societal boundaries (for instance through social community groups, local industry, local government and education sectors) are capable of acting as conduits for ideas. This sees adoption of ideas by more people, with a greater level of understanding and trust (to some extent!) based on the more entrenched someone is in a network.

Suddenly I realised I was my own little thought conduit for postgraduate issues at UWA. I heard about a loss of professional development opportunities and how much it upset people in my school and could take these concerns to the Sessional Staff Association. Through my enagegement with the Teaching and Learning committee I was able to have a Sessional Staff Association member added to the committee (fingers crossed!). I was able to promote the work of the Sessional Staff Association through the Postgraduate Student Association media channels, and then was able to tell postgraduates how the Sessional Staff Association was trying to build itself to represent the interests of postgrad teachers. I could find out issues that the postgraduates I was mentoring were having with block units and feed these to the Teaching and Learning Committee, and also tell my postgrads about the Postgraduate Students’ Association. I could even promote my Study Group within my School.

But now I have to look to the future. This madness can’t go on. I have to get some research done!  And so I’m trying to create some succession planning for when I leave these committees. Handover notes that will comprehensively and succinctly cover duties. People to potentially take my place. Withdrawing enough to give someone else responsibility without leaving them in the lurch. It’s not easy. And, as I have found in my research, so much of what can be done in these roles is based on the intersections between the roles, which can’t be replicated and will necessarily be lost next year. But I have hope that there will be others who care for the UWA community as I have. (Even if i complained about it sometimes).

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