In my first year I said yes to everything. I began my PhD with the attitude that I would say yes to as many opportunities as I could, even if those opportunities scared me. Without knowing for sure what I want to do at the end of my PhD I felt (and was repeatedly told by the internet) that I had to acquire every skill, for every possible job, before I finished. Ok internet, challenge accepted. I got a position as a post-grad blogger for my University and eventually added my own personal blog to the mix. I maintained (and still do) my status as a Registered Scientist with the Royal Society of Biology, completing a minimum of 50 continuing professional development (CPD) points per year. I’ve attended and presented at conferences. I put myself forward as the PhD representative for my department’s Athena Swan working group. I became (and still am) a PhD tutor with the Brilliant Club. I demonstrate on several different undergraduate units within my department. I agreed to speak to the new intake of PhD students and share my experiences of PhD life so far. I take part in open days, doing outreach work both within the University and by going into schools. I made myself known as someone who’s willing to do these things, and as a result more of these opportunities came my way. I acquired a lot of very useful skills for my CV, the most important of these to me was the development of my writing and public speaking skills. Science communication is something I love and hope to pursue one day.
People started to ask how I managed to fit it all in, I don’t know I just made it work, and I enjoyed (and still enjoy) all the things I do. I’m not one of the magical people you see who seem to juggle everything beautifully, although thinking about it probably looks to other people like I have it all together. You might even think I am one of those people, and that just shows you that no one has it more together than you, you just think they do…
Earlier this year everything happened at the same time. My boyfriend and I bought our first house :), he had a knee operation :(, I was demonstrating for undergraduates and teaching two different Brilliant Club courses to two different age groups (they were short of a tutor and I stepped in to teach a maths course). I had to work a lot of Saturdays to keep up my lab work, and also had extra things to do at home as my boyfriend was on crutches. I kept going, and I managed to get it all done, but I decided then that I couldn’t keep saying yes to everything. My PhD and my work/life balance were suffering. Luckily with the summer coming up, everything naturally calmed down and I had a little room to re-group. Towards the end of the summer, as things began to pick back up, it was time to try saying no. I had a busy month in September with a conference, a presentation to give and I was also an invited speaker at an event as the result of my personal blog. The Brilliant Club didn’t have a Leicester (where I attend University) based school for me so I accepted a demonstrating opportunity with the University instead, but then a tutor dropped out. My first no was going to have to be to the Brilliant Club :(. It wasn’t easy, but I was professional and polite. My programme officer was understanding and appreciated the alternative offer I put forward of working with this school next term if no other tutor could be found. Basically I said no and they got it, they understood, and they didn’t chuck me out :).
Over the summer I was also asked by Devon and Stewart if I wanted to be a sub-admin on the BioSci PhD forum, I’d said I was interested earlier in the year but didn’t get round to applying before the deadline. I was flattered to be asked when a position came up and took some time to think it over. The chance to be involved with the forum was something I really wanted, but I also only wanted to do it well. It wasn’t something I wanted to half-arse. After talking it through with my boyfriend, we decided together that if I was going to do this something else would have to go. This was the start of my current “one-in, one-out” policy. Now, if I’m thinking about taking on something new, I assess it in the context of what I’m already doing. I said no to be a sub-admin, and Devon and Stewart couldn’t have been nicer about it. Instead they asked if I’d like to blog for them. This was a commitment I could fit in with what I already do, and here I am blogging away :). Saying no didn’t close a door for me, instead it opened the one next to it, the one that fit best with all my other open doors. Once again my decision to say no was respected and appreciated, and it lead to an opportunity I didn’t even know was out there.
Now I’ve learnt to say no without feeling (as) guilty, I have a better balance. At first I worried I was throwing away a lot of the hard work I’d put in early on, but experience has shown me that the relationships I’ve already built will, and do, continue to provide me with the chance to develop all the skills I hope to. If chances come your way I’d encourage you to take them, don’t say no just because you’re scared but please don’t feel guilty about turning some things down, it might even lead to something better.
Megan De Ste Croix
The University of Leicester