I suck at saying "NO"

Aug 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I won't lie to you. As a brand-new PI, it was kind of exhilarating the first time a student asked me to be on their thesis committee. But the shine has definitely worn off. Because you know what? Apparently I am damn popular. I believe this is the "new meat" phenomenon. Everyone and their dog wants me to sit on their committee. And it is too fucking easy to say "sure I'll be on your committee". I don't want their boss (who will be voting on my tenure) to feel like I am dissing them. And then, next thing you know, you are on like 15 thesis committees*. Which doesn't seem so horrible until everyone wants to schedule their general exam for the same week in October. FML.

SO, new rule: I will only be on 2 new thesis committees this year (I have two grad students). It is too arbitrary for me to decide which students I say yes to on a case-by-case basis. I'm hoping that by setting a hard limit it will be easier for me to say no. And then I will have to come up with a reasonable number that will be my limit in upcoming years. I don't know what the "correct" number is. I just know that I am WAY past it.



*this is, sadly, not really an exaggeration :-/

12 responses so far

  • geeka says:

    My department (right before I left) went to a system in which the academic chair chose the committee for the student, that way the 'easy' people weren't over represented, and those that never got asked still had to do committee work.

    • gerty-z says:

      Interesting. That would never work at my MRU, which has graduate students from "umbrella" programs that contain faculty from many different departments. Did the students hate this? I would have HATED that when I was a grad student.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Yikes! I find that I have been asked a good bit too. The only thing that is in my favor as the overall # of grad students is low-so this holds my overall numbers in check. Something that I am finding is that students are afraid of the 'crusty old d00ds'. They don't want the hard questions. Somehow I think that they think that I will be 'easier'. DUDE! It is so NOT my job to be 'easier'. And just because I don't have physical balls, doesn't mean I won't pull out my theoretical balls on their asses! So, I guess in addition to saying no more, don't be the *easy* committee member^.

    ^I am not condoning the behavior of pure asshole CM's, but I appreciated the tough committee members that asked me the questions that made my stomach roll. I am a much better scientist for it!

    • gerty-z says:

      I really don't think that the students think I will be a push-over*. I am sort of "known" for asking questions at seminars. Lots of questions, at least some of which are pretty good. Most of the students that approach me actually seem to want me to actually contribute. Also, in the first thesis meeting that I sat on I asked several REALLY hard questions. That does not seem to have slowed the requests, though.

      *notwithstanding the fact that I am a pushover when asked to be on a committee, apparently :-/

  • Wouldn't the correct number be however many students you have multiplied by committee size? That way you're "returning the favor" — just like reviewing 2–3 manuscripts for each one you submit.

    So if you have 2 grad students, and they take ~5 years, perhaps you should be on 10 committees over that time. (This [fortuitously?] works out to exactly the 2/yr you said.)

  • BugDoc says:

    I had the same problem. I finally got to the point where I said that regrettably I was at the limit of committees that I could participate in and couldn't sit on another one until someone graduated (message - it's nothing personal!). I don't think people's mentors take this personally either. They are busy and know you are busy as well.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    You gotta say no more than that, G. The real bizness is when you end up on half a dozen reading committees at the same time you're renewing a major grant. Trust me, you don't want that.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    ...What Donnie said. Exactly right.

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