Working in academia is being generous. It is working for advancing science, for making progress on Earth and to prepare a new generation of students for lifelong learning. Saying NO to a request is usually misunderstood as not willing to cooperate. So, academics tend to say YES all the time. Yet, I would like to argue that saying NO sometimes, and selecting carefully your YES can bring you a lot further.

Recently I was asked by one of the young academics whom I line manage to act as an academic mentor for his fellowship proposal. I could have suggested other people for this position but in fact I was sincerely interested in the project and the person, so I was keen to accept. I had to write a supporting letter for the fellowship proposal to explain what my role in this proposal would be. I asked the person to draft a first letter to save me some time (remember that if people ask for your time, you can also ask for theirs). I started to add more information on the draft letter and got to a decent letter after 30 minutes. As I was rereading myself, I realised that although the letter was ok, it could be much better. I had this dilemma of sending the letter as it was, fulfilling the initial request and moving on to something else in my agenda; or spending more time of my busy schedule to improve the letter.

Fortunately, I could spend a bit more time on it that day. So, I kept at it and described with a lot more details what my contribution would be for this project and how I felt I could really add value in mentoring the fellow and to the overall grant. It took me another hour of writing. But I did not mind. I realised that, by giving myself extra time, I could really stretch myself in writing a much more supporting letter. At the end I was very pleased of the outcome and I gladly sent the supporting letter to my colleague. I knew he would be happy too so that made two happy people and a better chance to get the grant.

If I had not followed my instinct, I would have produced an acceptable letter of support but in fact I would not have enjoyed the process and not stretched myself to produce the best out of me.

I was lucky to have time to do it that day. But if you carefully plan your days and you say NO to some things, that means that you will be able to work better and actually do more. So, sometimes it is better to do less tasks so that you can go deeper into them.

Is there an example where you too have found that by doing the extra mile, you went much further?


Get on our email list

We will send you an article every month on academic related topic and how to manage your academic career.


And receive a free document on "How to lead your group remotely" when you register.

Thank you for registering to Success in Academia newsletter. Please check you email for a welcome message and check your spam folder if you have not received it in your inbox.