Learning how to say no

When you’re a new grad student, it’s really easy to be constantly thinking about what you should be doing and/or joining. What committees can you join? What volunteer opportunities should you say yes to? If you do more things, you have more to add to your cv/resume.

However, it can be really to quickly become overwhelmed if you keep saying yes. And, the more you say yes, the more people ask you to do stuff. So if you continue to say yes to everything, eventually you’ll never have time for your own research.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn over the years is how to say no. This can be particularly hard to do if you’re in a field where you give tons of demos, or if your a female engineer or male nurse (or other non-stereotypical gender in your field).

I found it difficult to learn to say no because I like to say yes. I like that people can count on me, and I usually end up having a good time. It can be fun to meet and interact with all sorts of different people you might not meet. It can be a way to network. It gives you more things to mention on a cv or scholarship application. It gives your references more things to talk about.

But saying no is really important. If you have a paper deadline coming up, you’re better of knowing you’ll have those extra hours available. It’s important for your sanity that you have time off – and time off that is not in your area. Instead use your time off participating in an activity or hobby unrelated to your research. It’s important to just be you at some point. And it’s important to relax.

It’s also important for people to realize that while you’re willing to help out, and you will when you can, that there are sometimes it’s just not possible. And in those cases, they need to learn to accept a simple “no.”

So next time you’re asked if you can help out or do something, take a minute to pause and think over the request instead of automatically responding with an conditional “yes.”

But don’t go to far. People will stop asking if you never say yes…


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