It can be incredibly easy to become a “yes person” when striving for success, especially when pursuing a career in STEM. While capitalizing on specific opportunities can help propel your career forward, there are instances where you must say no in order to avoid being overburdened. Saying no is a healthy practice that can save you from stress, burnout, awfulizing, and ultimately failing to advance your career. In a 2020 EMBO Opinion piece titled “The Power of Saying No,” I discuss the importance of balancing professional commitments and offer a strategy to help others avoid overextending themselves2.

I wrote this piece after becoming aware of the exorbitant responsibilities that are thrust upon minority trainees; institutions often expect Persons Excluded because of Ethnicity or Race (PEER)1 graduate students, post-doctorate fellows, and faculty members to participate in a disproportionate amount of diversity initiatives while still giving their research top priority. After watching many colleagues try to juggle too many things, I felt it was my responsibility to develop strategies that individuals could use to mitigate some of the unnecessary stress associated with being a PEER in science. 

“The Power of Saying No” highlights the importance of understanding emotional intelligence (EQ) in the context of mentoring; a mentor with a high EQ can accept when their mentee tells them “no,” which in turn lets the mentee feel more comfortable saying “no” to their mentor in the future. The article also stresses the importance of delegating tasks to a team, thus avoiding burnout among any of the team’s individual members. For example, I oversee a group of undergraduates who take on different assignments each week, which allows me to focus on bigger-picture issues while they gain valuable experience. In the article, I also outline how reflecting on past interactions has helped me to navigate different STEM arenas. Indeed, visualizing former experiences aids me in determining whether or not a new opportunity will help me achieve my goals. These three approaches, along with a self-designed strategy for saying “no,” have allowed me to balance my research, mentoring, and diversity efforts.

Ultimately, I hope that “The Power of Saying No” helps young investigators realize they are just one individual and cannot “do it all.” We all have to learn to recognize which opportunities are the most advantageous for our careers. And to do that we must sometimes say “no” to superfluous commitments.


  1. Asai, D. J. (2020). Race matters. Cell 181, 749-954.
  2. Hinton, A. O., Jr, McReynolds, M. R., Martinez, D., Shuler, H. D., & Termini, C. M. (2020). The power of saying no. EMBO reports, 21(7), e50918.

More Resources

Please, Just Say “No”

The Importance of Patching the Leaks in the STEM Pipeline

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