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Open Thread Wednesday: “Just Say No”?

A stenciled A few weeks ago, I received a kind invitation to come and speak at another institution. Everything about the offer seemed promising. The topic was right in line with my current interests; the person who invited me is someone I consider a good friend and mentor; the travel would take me to a city where I have some family members; and there was even the offer of a stipend that would pad the budget of something our family is saving for at the moment. But in the end, I said “no.”

Despite the fact that I believe the point of grad school is to learn to say “no,” I’ve found that it’s often difficult to say “no” to such invitations when they come. First, it’s flattering to be asked, and we all like to feel like our expertise or skills are wanted. Relatedly and second, invitations are evidence of to our peers and institutions of our expertise. My annual review process in both my library and English department pay more attention to external invitations than almost anything besides publications and grants. (One pities the introverts that get screened out by such practices of academe, as  William Pannapacker has adroitly pointed out.) Third, when I consider saying “no” I begin to wonder, “If I say ‘no’ to this invitation will it be the last one that I ever get?” After all, I know that I invite people to give talks that I have either seen give one or that I’ve been told is a fabulous speaker. “If I’m not out speaking,” I think, “no one will know to invite me.”

This last perhaps reads like the awkward flailings of impostor syndrome, a subject Natalie has written about previously. Indeed, I’ve been told by a friend who gets far more invites than I ever expect to that saying “no” actually seems to make her a more attractive candidate for invitations in the future, as it suggests that she’s so busy with other invites and commitments that she can’t say “yes” at this moment.

In the end, it was a conversation with my wife that helped me realize that I had actually already committed to everything I could for the summer, including my combination of family time and academic travel. That external validation of what I had already been thinking was what I needed to be able to say “no” in this particular instance.

Back in January, Natalie wrote some suggestions for questions you might ask yourself when you’re wondering whether you should say yes or no. In particular she recommends instituting a 24-hour waiting period before you accept any new invitation.

However, since we’re about to hit the season where we all start to get more invitations than we can reasonably accept and since this is Open Thread Wednesday, I wanted to ask the following:

  • How do you decide when to say “no”?

  • Do you have a limit to what you’ll accept to do on a per-month basis?

  • Must all your invites be about your current research or projects?

  • With whom do you consult before you say “yes”?

Let us know in the comments!

Lead image: no? / CC BY 2.0

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