This may sound familiar to you: you're offered the chance to co-write a grant proposal or a paper, or you see a call for applications or a job announcement, and you think "Yes! I should do that! As a graduate student/post-doc/early career scientist I need to do everything and anything to boost the CV and get funding. It probably won't take up too much of my time, I can do it on the weekend/in the evening/during time I use to relax."
I know it's not news that we're a busy society that values being in motion at all times. But I think that in this stage of my career I'm especially vulnerable to the idea that I should always say yes. I mean, I don't want to lose out on an opportunity that could make stronger bonds with established scientists or get funding for a new project. However, I also need to stay sane. My difficulty in saying 'no' recently came to mind in considering two opportunities.
First, my PI/supervisor/post-doc advisor asked if I wanted to help write a inner-university grant, due in 2 weeks. The grant guidelines didn't necessarily fit our project, but they were sufficiently vague that they thought we might have a chance. It would mean two part-time positions on the same project through two different institutions (don't get me started on why it couldn't just be one full-time positions) and include money for travel. I said that yes, we should go for it. Well, I said, "sure!" with a shoulder shrug. Because who would turn down the chance to get more money and to improve my relationship with my PI? But then I thought about it. I already had two part-time positions that were going to be hard to squish together, and the spin needed to pitch the project took it beyond my professional interests. I worried that none of my projects would get done well, or done at all. The next morning, I told my PI I didn't think it was a good idea. Turns out, they had the same concerns, and we agreed to write a proposal for the next grant cycle in the spring.
Second. Those pesky job openings that I know I should apply for. Because, I tell myself, if I do them, I'll get work done on my research and teaching statements, and who knows if a better position will even appear? Even if I don't like the position all that much, that work will make my next applications stronger. And, I might get a chance to interview and gain that experience! But the question then arises (with, I hope, not too much false pride in my abilities): what if I got the position? Much like the grant: what if I got the grant? In the grant's case, I'd be uber busy and my work's quality would suffer. In the case of a job I wasn't too crazy about, would I be able to say no at that point? Argh. P.S., I still haven't ruled out saying 'yes' to those applications.
But for now, I'm saying 'no' to the grant, and 'no' to the application for an assistant editor position. The list I've said 'yes' to is quite long, of course, but I'm working on that 'no'.