Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ADVICE: When to Say Yes, How to Say No.


Today's guest blogger is Fran Bagenal. Fran is a faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former editor of CSWA's STATUS magazine. She was on the science teams of the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Deep Space 1 mission to Comet Borrelly. She heads the plasma teams on New Horizons that will flyby Pluto in 2015 and on Juno that will go into orbit over the poles of Jupiter in 2016.

Service responsibilities (that's basically everything work-related that's not research or teaching) can be fun and rewarding. They can also be a burden. And as one advances in one's career the service load can sometimes be overwhelming.  "But", I hear you wail, "what do you do when people keep asking you to do things?"

1 - Wait 24 hours before responding to a request. If it's on the phone, say it's your policy, or say you have been told by your advisor/chair/spouse to wait 24 hours - and that you will get back to them in 24 hours via email (not phone - that gives them another chance to twist your arm).  This gives you time to think.

2 - If the service request is substantial seek advice from an adviser, supervisor, department chair, senior colleague - preferably all of the above. Your supervisor(s) need to know your service burden - and if it is adding up, they should to help you. Better research labs and academic departments will protect their junior staff so that they can get on with the most important things: publications and proposals.

3 - If you really want to say yes, then you need to think about what you will give up - and how/when - before taking on the new task.  Keep a tally of total tasks and find a way to resign, delay, stagger tasks on the list so that the burden is limited - at least averaged over the year.

4 - If you really want to say no, then think of some other people whom you think would be good alternatives to yourself. Suggest these names - saying why they would be good - to the person who initially asked you.

5 - If you are thinking "But I'm young - I'm not even getting asked" then you can (a) volunteer (e.g. to be on a committee, to be on a review panel, to do outreach, to run a seminar series, etc) or (b) talk with an adviser, supervisor, department chair, senior colleague - again, preferably all of the above.

6 - Always say yes to an invited talk - until you have a noticeable amount of grey hair and/or a CV dripping with awards/accolades. 

7 - How much is too much? A reasonable service load is no more than 20% of your workload, averaged over the year. Generally, less in one's early years and more later as one gains responsibility. The most important thing is to make sure it is not hindering your research career. Yes, serving on a review panel is very instructive and can definitely help you write a better proposal. But more than one panel per year should be avoided.  There may be a temptation - especially when avoiding writing that awkward paper or sitting down to some tedious number-crunching - to take on more service tasks. But beware of acting the role rather than being the scientist. Titles and a full calendar of meetings might make you feel the busy professional but you need to make sure you are doing the primary tasks that will take you along your desired career path.

8 - The GTK reward - when you have said no to a service commitment you deserve a gin & tonic plus a kiss from your partner. (Sarah Gibson's excellent idea).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article!