One thing that shocked me when I started my faculty position was the explosion of opportunities. As a grad student and postdoc, I remember clawing for opportunities that seemed all too infrequent. Upon starting my faculty position, I suddenly had access to people and things I never before could have imagined. Speaking invitations, requests to participate in panels, requests to work with me, quicker responses to my own requests of other faculty, increased potential was shocking. I was (and remain) thirsty for these opportunities.

Another new development that went hand in hand with this was the number of people telling me to say no to almost everything. “Saying yes to something means implicitly saying no to other important things,” they warned. “Focus on the things that will directly impact tenure,” they advised. All of these things are true. Certainly too much unfocused activity can sacrifice my ultimate goals of continuing to have the privilege of doing science for a living and leaving my mark on the field. But, while this advice is important to keep things in balance, I feel it shouldn’t be the whole story.

Personally, I’ve chosen to prioritize opportunities that meet any of the below criteria:

  • Does the opportunity directly help my research program?
  • Does the opportunity strongly contribute to changing the scientific landscape to the one I want for myself and future generation of scientists?
  • Does the opportunity help me expand my scientific circle? This can both have an indirect benefit for my research program and give me a seat at the table for discussions with influencers/decision makers.
  • Does the opportunity feed my soul? (Will it inspire new ideas or feed my curiosity about an aspect of my science? Will it allow me to help someone who otherwise would not get help? Will it push me out of my comfort zone to change my perspective on a scientific question? Is it fun?)

In short, articles about tenure like this by Radhika Nagpal and this by Matt Might speak to me so much more than the “learn to say no” articles. Inspirational and motivational advice can be so much more powerful than the practical caveats. Broader and more proactive thinking about the huge positive impact we can have on science and society (if we choose to) can sustain us through the [many] inevitable tough times. I hope everyone can experience the richness of the scientific career and find ways to meet their scientific goals while saying a resounding YES!

Categories: Reflections