Congratulations! You’ve received your appointment as a new faculty. Faculty evaluations and promotion and tenure reviews will arrive before you know it.
One way to shine in your first year, and to build your CV, is by serving on committees, engaging in research, publishing journal articles, and directing educational experiences. When you start, administrative time is likely spent completing your charts and twiddling your thumbs. You will want to fill that time and will be tempted to take the dozens of opportunities that comes your way. And why shouldn’t you be involved? You have the time—right?
Be careful about always saying yes. Beyond settling into your role as a faculty member, you have to protect your mental health. Getting involved in too much, too quickly, will emotionally, psychologically, and physically burn you out. Plus, you’ll miss great opportunities later on if you’re too busy with projects early on that are only of modest interest to you.
However, knowing when to say no—and then actually saying it—can be a challenge.
When to Say No
Decide what you want your future to look like. Do you want to focus on patient care, or are you interested in curriculum development, research, or administration? Identify your short- and long-term goals.
Once you’ve identified your career focus, knowing when to say no becomes obvious. Opportunities that help achieve your goals are best. Those that compliment your goals—or give you exposure to the “higher ups” at your institution are second best. Say no to those that do not fit your interests or goals.
If you can easily say no, you don’t need to read further. Yet, if like me, you are a pleaser and struggle with refusing someone, then read on. I can’t claim credit for these techniques. I learned some from my mentors and others I picked up from colleagues at STFM.
Say It Directly
In general, the best option is a direct, but courteous “no.” This is easier if you practice before it is needed. Avoid adding “maybe next time” unless you mean it.
Shoot Me an Email
You’re approached by a colleague in another department who wants you to serve on a committee. You have the time but have been working on a project you need to finish. If you cannot manage a direct “no,” ask him to send details in an email. In many instances, the issue dies right there. You never receive the email—and you don’t need to say no!
Musical (Department) Chairs
If you do receive the email, your department chair may say no for you. My chair is more protective of my time than I am (a fact for which I will be eternally grateful). If I am unsure, I run opportunities past her. She confirms my instincts and gives me the perfect guiltless refusal—an email saying my department chair has asked that I not participate at this time due to needs in the department.
Call a Time Out
Sometimes a project will interest you, but you do not have time. Ask for a clarification on time commitment, or set your own boundaries. What you anticipate to be a weekly meeting may turn out to be a once a quarter lunch discussion. When setting a time boundary, follow this example: “I’d be happy to review that paper. Unfortunately I’m overloaded at the moment. I can give you a 10-minute review. If that’s enough then great! If not, sorry I can’t help more.”
Of the last three, I prefer the Time Out method. What method do you prefer or recommend to new faculty? Let me know in the comments below.