Professional Service


Professional Service: Why it Matters

Jessica Ibarra, Ph.D., University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas

Dr. Jessica M. Ibarra, is an Assistant Professor of Applied Biomedical Sciences in the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Her research experience includes the study of inflammatory factors in cardiac remodeling, arthritis, and diabetes. Her current work focuses on medical education, curriculum development, and science outreach. When she is not teaching or inspiring young scientists, she is mentoring and helping students realize their health profession education/career goals. Dr. Ibarra is an active member of the American Physiological Society and is a current member of the Porter Physiology and Minority Affairs Committee, fellow of the Physiology Education Community of Practice, and secretary to the History of Physiology Interest Group. She is also a former APS Life Science Teaching Resource Community Vision & Change Scholars Program and K-12 Minority Outreach Fellow.

A few weeks before the spring term ended, I opened an email informing me I was eligible for promotion. Promotion? Where had the time gone? Within seconds, a lengthy to-do list formed in my mind along with a bit of panic. It was time to get my promotion packet together.

Over the next few days, I reviewed the school’s standards for faculty seeking promotion. The guidelines were clear, my promotion hung on demonstrating university fit and upon highlighting various activities exhibiting my commitment to – teaching, research, and service.

The time had come to open up my brag folder (the pile of papers stuffed into a 3-ring binder along with a collection of electronic documents saved as evidence of my commitment to scholarly work) to sort through my pile of academic activities in an effort to categorize my scholarly work into the three main areas of faculty academic responsibility - teaching, research, and service.

The Challenge

Sorting out academic activities into the teaching and research piles was a straightforward task. Instructional activities such as course design, course revision, mentoring, and undertakings involving the classroom and students were easily placed in the “teaching” pile of demonstrated activities. My work in the basic sciences was not difficult to identify and classify into the category pile called “research.” The guidelines for what was and was not teaching and research scholarship were well-defined. Most of us agree on what type of academic work is deemed teaching or research. But what about service? The final faculty role most difficult for me to grasp was service.

As I considered the scope and frequency of service activities I had undertaken over the years, I realized I had accumulated many service experiences. Simply listing the various service work as “community” or “university” service would not do justice to the scope and magnitude of each of these service commitments.

Much of my service work occurred out in the community and as an individual effort to conduct science outreach, to promote STEM, higher education, health profession careers, physiology, and service learning. How best could I highlight and showcase my commitment to students, the university, the community, and my profession than through my service activities?

Indeed, I ran into a problem, the guidelines offered by the university were not sufficient to help faculty at my level to document, organize, and show the impact of diverse scholarly service activities in the promotion, rank, and tenure process. It was significantly clear that service was an important aspect of the evaluation process and essential to accomplish the mission of the university, however more information about scholarly service was required to address service.

Immediately, I looked outside my university’s faculty guidelines for a definition of scholarly service and for standards to identify, classify, describe, and show impact of scholarly service activities. The goal was to gain an understanding the most ambiguous component of scholarly work – service. What does the academic world say about service? How frequent should service be conducted? What is the scope of work considered service? What is professional service? Does service matter?

What follows is a brief overview of scholarly service and a challenge to consider professional service as the symbiosis between scholarly service, teaching, and research endeavors in your academic life.


Does your institution consider service for promotion, rank, or tenure? Is service important for your annual faculty review? How does your institution define service? How frequently should service activities occur? Well, the answers depend on who you ask. The scope of events classified as scholarly service vary from institution to institution, yet they all value some aspect of service as part of faculty responsibilities. Service remains an important standard of scholarship.

By tradition, service at most universities refers to the compendium of core university responsibilities necessary to meet the mission of the university/institution and do its work. Internal (university) service is accomplished and evident when faculty conduct committee work, sponsor student organizations, chair a committee, direct a program, chair a department, conduct peer evaluations, mentor, take on course overloads, etc.

Service also occurs when faculty use their knowledge and expertise in public service to the community or to a profession, at different levels (local, regional, or national). For example, community service may involve service-learning, consulting, etc. in the city, county, or to the public. On the other hand, professional service refers to extramural work on activities which improves the profession or the quality of a discipline/profession.

It may take some digging around to determine the value your institution places on service or the extent to which service is measured for faculty promotion, rank, or tenure.

For faculty new to academia or those interested in increasing their participation in scholarly service, you may begin to realize scholarly service can occur within any area of institutional responsibility – teach, research, and service.

Through service faculty apply their expertise, skills, and knowledge beyond the walls of the classroom (and often the university). Most importantly, new faculty members demonstrate their commitment to the university, their students, and their professional community through scholarly service.

Service in Teaching

Service in teaching involves instruction activities that take place alongside civic engagement. For example, service learning, outreach, or experiential learning events are commonly recognized forms of service in teaching. In each case, faculty take students outside their classroom and place them in an environment where some form of civic or social issue is addressed. Service in teaching opportunities provides an opportunity for learning to emerge when students engage in service for real-world issues. This type of service experience is not the same as volunteering or performing community service. Service in teaching occurs when learning course content is linked directly to service.

Professional Service

Faculty perform scholarly service for work in their professional society or in organizations. Professional service includes service on commissions, agencies, review panels, organizations, charities, professional societies, advisory groups, and more. Other examples of faculty in professional service roles involves the work required to organize workshops, panels, or meetings; promote the mission of the professional society or organization; review papers, awards applications, and grants; and conduct other civil duties. Sound familiar? The work of the American Physiological Society relies on the professional service contribution of its members. Members’ time, skills, knowledge, and experiences benefit the physiology community, helps it reach its mission, and contribute to society at large. The collective service efforts of APS members make it possible to realize the strategic aims of the APS, promote physiology, and impact the general public.

Why it matters

Professional service benefits the society or organization you serve, as it relies on the experiences, skills, and talents of its members to move the profession and its programs forward. In the case of the APS, professional service duties performed by its membership leads to “fostering education, scientific research, and dissemination of information in the physiological sciences.”

More importantly, the civic duties performed by faculty involved in professional service benefit also YOU (the faculty). Your involvement creates opportunities to make friends; develop your knowledge; form new ideas; become inspired or motivated; develop a support network; and do work you love to do – all while being a part of a national effort to “promote the discipline of physiology and enhance human and animal health.”

Amalgam of Academic Life

Intentional, strategic, and well-documented professional service aligns the personal, academic, and professional visions that faculty have for themselves. When done with this in mind, professional service may be the perfect amalgam of faculty academic, professional, and personal life. Service opens the door wide open for faculty to integrate passion for their work, civic duties, leadership, and community impact into their academic duties and responsibilities.

Consequently, scholarly service stands strongly alongside the other criteria for faculty success - teaching and research. Professional service also leads to accomplishment, satisfaction, leadership skills, broadening knowledge, interactions with diverse faculty, collaborations, and influence over decision-making processes.

Professional service matters

The bottom line is that professional service matters. Professional service connects university resources (YOU) to pressing social, ethical, cultural, civic, and economic concerns from your communities, schools, cities, states, and country. Without the service of faculty and their involvement in professional societies and groups, the work of these organizations would not get done. For the faculty, there are many tangible (career and professional development) and intangible (friendships, satisfaction, motivation, inspiration, and support) rewards for faculty committed to professional service.

After looking more closely for guidelines and examples of scholarly service, it turns outs many of my service experiences met the criteria for service in teaching and in my profession. The exercise of defining scholarly service opened my eyes to the world of importance of and impact of professional service. It also made me realize how well-documented service in my promotion packet will help me demonstrate my personal commitment to my students, the university, my profession, and to society. I am not as panicked as I used to be when thinking about service. Now, I know how to organize, describe, and categorize my service experiences and demonstrate the importance of these activities.

Lastly, I challenge you to consider how investing in professional service not only can help you demonstrate scholarly service for the purpose of promotion, rank, and tenure at your institution, but how it may also bring into alignment your academic work and personal goals.


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Thank you for a very informative article. I agree with you that service helps to identify and grow your academic work and personal goals in addition to being a very important component of the teaching portfolio but it is somehow obscure. Personally, it helped me to talk to other colleagues that went through promotion to understand what can qualify as service in teaching based on their experience, but still not nearly as clear as another sections of the teaching portfolio. This article has shed light on my perspective of service. I was wondering if you could elaborate some on service in teaching and provide examples as how a physiologist can do service learning and how outreach activities such as PhUn week activities could be classified as service, maybe in teaching?

Lourdes A. Fortepiani, Ph.D.
University of the Incarnate Word


The Boyer’s model of scholarship is very helpful here, particularly through the scholarship of teaching, scholarship of application, scholarship of integration and scholarship of engagement. You can refer to the book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate by Ernest Boyer 1990, The Carnegie Foundation.

The literature is filled with many great examples of how physiologist can do service learning. Keep in mind that service learning is an instructional strategy connecting course content with meaningful community service (service in teaching). Service learning makes the material come to life for students while meeting true needs of the community. The links included below illustrate how physiologists have conducted service learning:

Physiology Understanding (PhUn) week provides the perfect stage to conduct service learning (service in teaching). PhUn week at its core, links the university to local K-12 students and teachers. How? Creating physiology hands-on activities that align with course content. Next, use the “see one, do one, teach one” approach. Show students how to conduct the activities, let them practice, and then at the local K-12 school step back and watch them “teach one.”

University students will deepen their academic learning, apply physiology concepts learned; teach local K-12 students and participate in an experience where personal, social, and intellectual growth can occur. For the K-12 student students and teachers, the experience provides them with an enriched learning environment, a wider view of physiology, increased their understanding of real-world science, and broader view of health, exercise, and physiology. Moreover, K-12 students and teachers really needs professionals from various fields to visit the classroom. They welcome visitors that can speak to health, nutrition, physical education, STEM, and careers. The local community desires their K-12 students be exposed to role models, higher education, careers, opportunities, and community involvement. PhUn Week integrates learning by university student in the real world while simultaneously meeting K-12 and community needs.

Jessica Ibarra, Ph.D.

Thank you for an illuminating article on professional service. I completely agree that as opposed to “teaching” and “research”, “service” seems so much more amorphous and less well-defined. I appreciated your definitions of professional service, and concrete examples of service roles and how these may also occur within the realms of teaching and research. Given the time commitment, how have you been able to determine if a service opportunity is worth the time and effort? Are there certain service roles (such as grant reviewing or editorial board membership) that are required or deemed more valuable than others for purposes of promotion?

Jeanie Park, MD, MS
Emory University School of Medicine


In traditional schools, scholarship is the predominant factor on which one will be assessed in rank/tenure decisions. Within this context, integrating your scholarship and service efforts is key and the basis for determining if a service opportunity is worth your time and effort. Does the service opportunity lead to an outcome (abstract, presentation, publication, etc.) considered scholarly by my institution? If yes, then it is certainly worth your time as you are meeting the assessment needs of your school along with serving the community at large.

In teaching intensive universities, service tends to be an integral part of rank and tenure decisions, therefore it is definitely worth your time and effort. The Boyer is useful here (Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate by Ernest Boyer 1990, The Carnegie Foundation). Nevertheless, one must be able to demonstrate how service efforts integrate into your teaching and how your committee and professional service efforts contribute to the advancement of your field, with a focus on teaching.

How do you determine if a service activity or role is more valuable than others for promotion? The response to your question depends on the assessment criteria for promotion. Institutions vary the emphasis placed on scholarship (teaching, research, and service).

Interestingly, your question reflects a common concern among faculty. The scholarship of engagement most often is not viewed “as scholarly” as the more tradition activities. The view that service is second to other academic work is quite common.

Why? Service work is not perceived as valuable primarily because it is, as you said, “amorphous and less well-defined.” Service is less well defined, assessed, and documented by our institutions. While each component of scholarly work is equally valuable to the work of the school. Each produce new knowledge and link the university to the external community. At the root, each (teaching, research, and service) connect academic interests with society’s needs. Rather than viewing each as independent, competing efforts, I encourage you to consider how each one can enrich the others.

How can you get involved at the national level? Meaningful service occurs when individuals work towards a common goal or agenda. Professional organizations, like the APS, offer wide-range of opportunities to get involved in meaningful work and at all levels of education and career. Annual calls for participation, nominations, etc. go out to its members. I would also encourage you to introduce yourself to APS society members serving in roles that interest. Ask them about what they do (duties, responsibilities, terms, etc.) and express to them your interest in getting involved. Speaking with someone directly will help take the mystery out of the process.

Jessica Ibarra, Ph.D.