Degree In Sight

You can't do it all, but that doesn't stop many students from trying to crunch in too many teaching, research or professional obligations. Many students say they overload their to-do lists because they don't feel they can say "no" to a professor or mentor or because they don't want to miss out.

Indeed, David Miller-a third-year doctoral student at the University of Oregon-says he packs his schedule because so many opportunities arise that he feels could help better prepare him for his future career. He teaches classes, served as a student representative of APA's Board of Educational Affairs Advisory Counsel on Accreditation and runs the University of Oregon Men's Center, a student organization for men's health.

However, while Miller notes it's not easy to say "no," sometimes you should. For example, he recently turned down a professor who asked him to do some guest lecturing in a psychology class. Even though he wanted to, he knew he couldn't take on more without sacrificing something else.

So how do you say "no"? Psychologist John Norcross, PhD, who studies psychologists' self-care, advises the following approach:

  • Never say "yes" immediately. Instead, thank the person for the opportunity and ask for an evening or two to think about it. Consider realistically whether your schedule will allow another obligation. For example, will you have to give up sleep or time with your family to do this? Will these new obligations be worth it?

  • Ask others for feedback. Ask your mentor, professors or supervisor if they believe it's worth the time or sacrifice.

  • Respond promptly. Tell the person your response by the deadline you set. If you decide you can't do it, thank the person again for the offer. Norcross suggests adding: "This does not reflect my disinterest. I just can't do it now. Please keep me in mind for future offers."

Even if time doesn't allow you days to mull it over, Norcross suggests weighing how this activity would fit in your schedule and how it aligns with your career goals to help reach your decision.