One of the things that I’ve heard over and over in terms of advice for new faculty, especially women faculty, is that we need to say “no” so that we don’t get sucked into too many service commitments.  I’ve always thought I would be pretty good at saying no, but it turns out that I’m actually just good at not volunteering for something.  When someone asks me directly to do something, it’s really hard for me to say no.  sigh.  This is going to be a struggle for me.

I did get a chance to practice saying no in a relatively low-stakes situation recently.  Here’s the deal: apparently we have a holiday party in our department every year.  There is no alcohol at this holiday party, because we’re on a university campus, and it is a potluck from 4pm-6pm on a Friday (am I supposed to eat dinner at 4pm?).  I’m pretty much not excited about this “party” at all.

Anyway, despite the fact that this event happens every year, it is somehow different this year (I have no idea how), so there is apparently no institutional memory about how to set it up.  The department admin assistant recently sent out an email specifying the time and date of the party, and asking for help. I replied that I would be happy to help with setup or cleanup, thinking that I was willing to pitch in on a well-defined task on a single afternoon.  A few days after that, I got an email asking me, Shaggy (who had also volunteered for setup or cleanup), and one other faculty member to attend an “organizational” meeting to plan the party.  To which I replied “WTF”? (Only I didn’t really reply that way, of course.)

This was doubly hilarious: not only did I volunteer for a discrete task and get assigned to a much larger one, but it turned out the majority of the existing faculty hadn’t replied to the admin’s request for help at all – my Newbie status definitely hurt me there.  I was able to say I couldn’t attend the meeting because I had class during that time period, but the admin steadfastly asked if we could meet at another time to accommodate my schedule. I finally had to write back with an awkward email stating that I couldn’t commit to planning the holiday party.  It was surprisingly difficult, despite the fact that it was clearly not an important request or a worthwhile service activity for me.  Yikes.  It’s going to be way harder if these requests come from the Dean or the department Head.