My New Year’s Resolution: Learning to Say “No, Thank You…”

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

It’s that time of year again: time for New Year’s resolutions!  It feels like just yesterday when I resolved to get out and try new things; say “Yes” to new opportunities in order to discover my next inspiration.  Now, I find myself at the end of another year, and this time I need to take a step back and start saying “No, thank you…”  Saying “No” at the right time and for the right reasons can be just as powerful as saying “Yes.”  

This past year has been amazing.  I’ve met so many interesting people and discovered career paths that truly do inspire me.  These new experiences gave me the extra inspiration and motivation to push through a particularly rough patch in my research and get very close to completing my dissertation proposal.  But I have also let myself down by not meeting my goal, which was to defend my proposal by the end of the year.

Pixabay: Gerd Altmann

To be honest, this failure is a direct result of my saying “Yes” to so many other things.  So, my resolution this year is to cut back the number of extra-curricular activities I’m pursuing and focus on completing my dissertation and strengthening the professional ties that will bring me closer to my next goal: becoming a science communicator for policy makers and key decision makers in a state or the federal government.

The power of saying “Yes”

After making an appointment with the graduate student career advisor at my campus’ Career Center and discussing some possible career paths to explore further, that coach offered me two great opportunities.  One was an opportunity that I described in a previous post; to build out more resources for graduate students like me searching for their next step beyond the ivory tower.  The other was the opportunity to write for this blog! I said “Yes” to both of these opportunities, and I have gained valuable experience working in the student support services and building ‘clips’ for a future writing career.

This same career coach also put me in touch with a fellow graduate student who was also interested in beefing up their science policy acumen. Together we started the Homewood-based arm of the Johns Hopkins Science Policy Group.  By saying “Yes” to this opportunity, I have been introduced to fellow scientists who have put their training to use ensuring that the key decision makers in Washington D.C. are well informed. The goal is to ensure these people understand a wide range of scientific issues that could inform their policy decisions or how policies can impact present and future scientific endeavors.  I’ve also been familiarizing myself with the main policy communication methods like memos, public comments, and brief writing. These experiences have helped me to envision a future career path for myself. It has allowed me to build a professional network that will hopefully offer mentoring support and help me explore this career path further.

These educational, horizon-expanding experiences all arose because I said “Yes” when I was offered these opportunities.  I have gained valuable experiences and relationships by saying “Yes”. But getting involved in these experiences has also meant I have been spending less time and energy thinking about my dissertation research: not a good idea if I still plan to defend before my funding runs out!  That’s why I have resolved to say “No” more often in 2019.

The importance of saying “No”

The experiences and knowledge I have gained in career services and science policy have helped me decide on two inspiring, yet attainable possible future career paths.  Now my task is to focus on doing the best possible work I can do in each of these domains to be a competitive candidate when the time comes to apply for these kinds of jobs. To do that and still complete my dissertation research, I need time to focus.  So, I have resolved to say “No, but thank you for considering me” to further projects or additional time commitments.

I suggest “No, but thank you for considering me” specifically because it gives me the chance to reiterate my interest in the opportunity, despite not being available at the moment.  I hope this gives me the option to reach back out in the future if I want to explore the opportunity further when I have the time and mental capacity to give it my best efforts. I’m sure this strategy will allow me to present the best possible professional version of myself, since accepting an opportunity and not giving it enough time and attention will only result in a sub-par product that lets down both myself and the person who offered me the opportunity.

“No, but thank you for considering me”

After saying “Yes” and reaping the benefits last year, saying “No, but thank you…” feels counterintuitive, and will take some getting used to.  I have a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but I’ve already said “No, but thank you…” to a few opportunities that were presented to me this month and the world did not end. In fact, I felt relieved that my schedule was not further crowded, so I think I can do it!

Have you said “No” to something recently?  How did it go for you? Please share your stories in the comments!

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment