On Saying “No”

Thinking back to the first time I was asked to review for a big journal in my field, I remember being so excited that someone was asking for my¬†opinion about the quality of a complete stranger’s scholarship. That was right after I got my degree. Then the requests steadily increased in frequency. Still a tenure-track assistant professor, I find myself in a little bit of a bind. On the one hand, I fully recognize the importance of peer reviewing and the obligation we have to our disciplines and each other to contribute to that process. On the other hand, in a tenure-track where it’s hard enough to strike a balance between research, teaching, and non-work life, sometimes you’ve just gotta say no.

For me, I’ve set my limit at about 3 journal reviews a year (plus conference reviewing), with first priority going to the places where I’m on the editorial board (and generally just won’t say “no” to them at all unless there’s a very good, specific reason). Why 3 reviews? Aside from 3 being the magic number, I have no idea — seemed about right is all. But now I find myself in the uncomfortable position of saying “no” more than I say “yes” to reviewing. At the end of the day, however, I recognize that reviewing isn’t going to get me tenure. And it’s not going to help me maintain a work/non-work balance. As hard as it is for me to say “no” to people’s requests (I inevitably feel like I’m letting them down), I’ve come to see it as a necessary evil — key to preserving productivity and maintaining some king thin grasp on my sanity.

What about you? What is/was your limit as an assistant professor? Did/will that change post-tenure? Are there (or do you fear) negative consequences to saying “no” on a regular basis?

Please comment below and share your thoughts!