Thursday, June 25, 2015

When to say yes

As a junior PI, you get a lot of advice about when to say “no”. One PI I know told me that he and his other junior PIs have a rule that they have to say no to at least one thing a day. And it is sage advice. The demands on our time are huge, and so every minute counts.

Sometimes I worry, though, that the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction, to the point where the received wisdom to say no to everything prevents us from saying yes every once in a while. Say yes and you might just end up on a new adventure you may not have anticipated with cool and interesting people. Say no and you will never know.

I started thinking about this when I read this excellent blog post with advice for new PIs. All great tips, and one that really resonated with me was the tip to “Be a good colleague”. Basically, the point is that while there are some reasons you might think it a wise to do a bad job on something so that nobody asks you again, it’s far better to do a good job. I think the same holds for interpersonal interactions. I think it’s important to make time for the people you care about in your work life. Sometimes you might do a favor for a senior (or junior) colleague. Then you might have lunch and end up with an awesome collaboration. Or maybe the favor doesn’t get repaid. That’s okay, too, happens. And some people are just not going to make fun collaborators, and you might get burned. It takes time to get better at identifying those beforehand, and I know I still have much to learn about that. But I’m also learning not to be quite as suspicious of every request, and also trying to just go with the flow a bit. It’s led to some really great collaborations from which I've learned a lot.

My point is that by reflexively saying no to everything, I think we’re denying ourselves some of the richness of the life of a PI that comes through interactions with colleagues and their trainees, which I’ve found to be very valuable. And enjoyable. That’s the point, right?

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