Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Volunteered For This

Our department has a boring, dry, ugly newsletter that appears every few years. One of the administrative assistants has always been in charge of it, and she has other priorities, and years go by without a newsletter. So.. I volunteered to organize, write, construct, create a new newsletter. In a way, it's yet another little task that I do while the important guys in the department make the big decisions, but only in a way. I actually like doing this kind of thing -- writing, putting together words and images to communicate with people. And I did volunteer. And now I have to create something.

I have been poring over a lot of departmental newsletters this past week, looking for inspiration. My first conclusion is that there are a lot of boring, dry, ugly newsletters out there. Newsletters filled with lists of names, epic poems written for men getting awards, and photos of diverse groups of young students Doing Science.

It's quite possible that my enthusiasm for doing something new and different will get stomped on by the reality of creating this thing whilst also writing a proposal, giving an invited talk a couple thousand miles from here, teaching, attending a conference a couple thousand miles from here, and finishing up some papers by the end of the semester. And studying for my own final exam in my intro language course!

But I would like to do something fun and aesthetically pleasing with this newsletter. I am getting sort of fond of the idea of 'interviewing' some of our new faculty members rather than just writing a few paragraphs about each of them, with questions like "Why do you do what you do?" and "How did you get here?", not just "What do you do and how do you do it?".

The Chair's view of this newsletter is that it is a vehicle for attracting donations. I will try not to let that harsh economic reality intrude too much on my enjoyment of the project, which I mostly see as a way to communicate with friends and alums of the department. I find myself imagining that I am writing it for some of my former students, and thinking about what they might want to know about the department now.

Any suggestions of what you like to read or see in an academic newsletter?

8 comments:

MissPrism said...

One place I was at had a "Welcome" page with a picture and some interview-type questions for every new person in the dept - researchers, grad students, technicians and admin - which felt very friendly and inclusive.

Katie said...

I have had this same discussions with my colleagues. The department I graduated from never had regular newsletters until recently. While the department I was working in did. It excited me...

To be honest, if my old department had kept in touch, I would DEFINITELY feel more connected when that envelope/phone call came asking for money. I may have even been inspired to donate - but I don't.

Keep both missions in mind, but remember that accomplishing your goal will also most likely acccomplish the goal of the chair.

Harold said...

What Katie said. Potential donors want stories.

jyby said...

One secretary of our faculty maintains a database of "personal stories" about research but also about hobbies, and picks a few of them around an axis for each newsletter, with a priority on new people. I don't read them all the time, but some time I do when nobody else has lunch in the lounge, and I usually enjoy it.

It is nice to know about new people. In the same line of thought, I would like also to know about people in the department who got babies or weddings, and to have news of those who leave or left the department, but I am not sure if it would be politically correct in North America?

Anonymous said...

I like interviews a lot - they are a much better way to connect and get a specific idea about what's going on.

Maybe also an interview with a grad student: why they chose Big U, and how it lived up to (and exceeded) their expectation now that they're in year X.

Also, almost everyone wants to know what their old classmates are up to, so a "who's where and doing what now" section is good.

Janice said...

Our department's newsletter is very amusing, but not (I think) sent to alums. It has a bunch of grad student volunteers to staff it, which helps the content, but anyhow. There's a column on cooking; a very sarcastic "Dear Labby" column; announcements of weddings, engagements, babies, and defenses; something about science education or grad school or the department... you get the idea. Sometimes they do interview people, which can be either amusing or dead boring.

If you do grad student interviews- well, how many of the grad students are that happy? (Not here, that's for sure.)

PhD Mom said...

We just conducted a fundraising study to determine what motivates potential donors. The number one criticism that we received is that they don't feel connected to the dept.

I like newsletters that have an alumni notes section in the back.People can send in short paragraphs about what they are up to, pictures of their newborns, and that kind of thing. It really makes people feel more connected. Also, similar information from the faculty, like you were saying interviews and more personal interactions make a big difference. Like you might interview someone to find out why they got the big teaching or research award?

Ms.PhD said...

I think the interviews on how/why they do what they do where they do it would be great.

Dear Labby wouldn't be good for donors to read, I don't think.

Where are they now would be good if you have students who have gone on to interesting, department subject-related professions.

I've never been in a department that had one of these, so I wouldn't know from experience.