Knowing when to slow down

Knowing when to slow down

As a new faculty member on the tenure track, I don’t have the luxury of saying no very often. It’s not that I can’t say no at all, but rather, I’m worried that if I don’t say yes, it will be misconstrued that I don’t play well with others. That could potentially damage my case for tenure when that comes up or make it more difficult to work with certain folks because I will seen as being in the camp of one faculty faction instead of another.

A lot of the advice you read on the interwebs about this topic is that you should say no as often as possible because you need as much time to advance your research as possible. When offered other committee positions or responsibilities (journal editor, conference organizer, etc), you’re supposed to avoid those like the plague for as long as possible. I can totally see why this is suggested because finding time for research with all of these other obligations is exhausting (hence my erratic posting schedule). And while I’ll have to learn to deal with my commitments on that front for the time being, today I wanted to discuss something else which has a similar flavor.

One of the other things that you constantly do when you’re on the tenure track is contact other researchers to start collaborations and propose joint research projects. This is fantastic because either you can make inroads for tapping new funding sources if your collaborator is a senior colleague or you can team with a new (and hopefully equally) energetic faculty member for potentially long term success. These may be great for the future, but each takes time, effort, and energy. And even though one might like to have a zillion projects running, at some point you have to slow down in your research scope to ensure your existing projects are successful before tackling new ones.

I think this is a position that’s somewhat odd to be in. On one hand, you don’t want to lose the chance at a potential collaboration (and maybe more funding) but on the other hand, you’re stretched even thinner over all of the other projects, service, and teaching commitments that you already have. So, at what point does one slow down in pursuing projects? I know each person has their own individual threshold and there may be differences between academia and industry but I’m trying to get an understanding for what’s a reasonable number. If I look towards my own projects (5 current plus 2 potential projects), I think I’m nearing my threshold (until other commitments subside) yet it would still be hard to turn down a project if it came across my desk. This goes back to that whole not-being-able-to-say-no discussion.

And I think another important aspect to consider is when does one realize that they are “full”. Is it usually before you reach your capacity? Or, is it when you’ve committed to so many projects that the house of cards is falling down around you as you begin to realize?

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1 comment

Oh I have such problems with this issue! Although I am not faculty, my labmates do call me Miss “Side Project” Outlier as a joke. 🙂 When something new and interesting comes up, it takes SO much self control to avoid tackling it, and keep motivated to make progress on the old, not-so-shiny projects you already have going.

I got in over my head this spring, and it was painful. (So I guess for me, I may not realize it until the cards are coming down…) It was compounded by the fact that some of the things I had signed up for turned out to be MUCH more work than I anticipated. There was nothing to do but finish the commitments I had, grit my teeth, and hope I could sleep when I died. That has cured me (for a while, at least) and made me much more cautious about saying “yes” to new things.

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