Walking a tightrope: when it’s ok to say no

By: Damianne Brand-Eubanks PharmD; Jonathan Thigpen, PharmD; Emmeline Tran, PharmD, BCPS; Vibhuti Agrahari, PhD MPharm

Opportunities to become involved in career-advancing endeavors happen often, and while these may directly align with our area(s) of interest, they can also be foisted upon us.  Intense requirements for tenure and promotion may lead junior faculty to succumb to the pressure of accepting many if not all these “opportunities”, making it difficult to accommodate work-life harmony.1  Complicating this further, faculty can suffer from two types of perceived job stress, job threat stress and job pressure stress.2,3  For those in academia, there is a great potential for this to occur, yet little is done to mitigate these stressors and take our careers into our own hands.

It would benefit faculty to approach these opportunities in a way that promotes work-life balance while accommodating goals and interests.4 To assist with this, we introduce two career development tools below: career mapping and project-based cost-benefit analysis.

What is a Career Map?  

A career map is a written plan outlining:

  • Where are you starting? Conduct a self-assessment.
    • What are your current strengths, skills, interests, passions?
      • Remember you have probably done a lot more than you think!
  •  Where do you ultimately want to go? Investigate and reflect.
    • Specificity is very important.  E.g., If a specific job, include the minimum qualifications.
    • Include personal lifestyle ambitions as well.  E.g., starting a family, living abroad.  These will also determine pathway decisions.
  • What are your short and long term goals?  Plan and implement.
    • This is what keeps us going, those small wins.
    • Barriers or challenges you must overcome to get there

Where you are currently in your career does not matter.  But a clear pathway to your goals is critical as you progress in your career, especially when everyone wants a piece of your time and bevy of skills.  If this all seems overwhelming, just start with a singular goal.  Trace how you are going to get there and practice thinking linearly through each step.  Take care not to just create a “to do” list that adds more to your perceived burden.  No matter what form it takes–journal, Excel sheet, vision board–a career map should be a “living” document and easily accessible, as your career goals will change and evolve.  This can also help you track successes to share when being evaluated by your supervisors.  Using this document as a guide keeps your primary goals in mind by making very clear intentions on a routine basis.  How your career map is designed is entirely up to you but should be made in a sharable form for input from your mentors, those already in the position you want, or for use in your own leadership mentoring. Further guidance on career mapping can be found in this book by Gary M. Burge, tracing the pathway of a professor’s career from initial appointment to retirement.

Project-based Cost-benefit Analysis

Once a career map is established, creating specific career goals and intentional trajectory, emerging opportunities may be assessed for career fit using a cost-benefit analysis approach.  A cost-benefit analysis helps the user compare what is gained by engaging in the opportunity versus what the opportunity costs are in terms of time, resources, other forgone projects, etc.  An additional consideration is balancing the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) with the potential for burnout by taking on too much. 

Stop and ask yourself: 

  1. How does this opportunity align with my career map goals?
  2. Are the benefits worth the additional workload? 
  3. What is the estimated time and resources required?

With this information, emotion can be removed from a decision, allowing for a more objective evaluation.  Positives and negatives are weighed utilizing a subjective point value. It not only makes you think more critically about the opportunity, but can also inform a trade-off decision of sorts, such as offering to edit a paper in exchange for acknowledgement, rather than taking on a lead writing role. When thinking through costs/benefits, here are some things to consider:

  • your time
  • promotion requirements
  • expanding your network
  • developing a new skill

This table is meant to be a simple thought exercise to allow you to reason more objectively. The points are merely a guide to help determine each category’s value to you.  If you decide the positives and negatives of an opportunity to be equivalent, reach out to a mentor and ask for a fresh perspective on your evaluation. 

Using these two tools to evaluate potential opportunities can help you view things in a more objective way and ultimately maintain a positive work-life harmony.   What have you tried or seen used at your college to successfully evaluate opportunities or maintain career goals?


The authors would like to acknowledge members of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Council of Faculty’s Junior Faculty Task Force for their help in encouraging and guiding this effort.


  1. Guest DE. Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social Science information. 2002;41(2): 255-279. https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018402041002005. Accessed October 15, 2020.
  2. Bell AS, Rajendran D, Theiler S. Job stress, wellbeing, work-life balance, and work-life conflict among Australian academics. E-JAP. 2012;8(1): 25-37. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.7790/ejap.v8i1.320 
  3. Bartlett MJ, Arslan FN, Bankston A, Sarabipour S. Ten simple rules to improve academic work-life balance. PLoS Comput Biol. 2021;17(7):e1009124. Published 2021 Jul 15. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009124 
  4. Fletcher AC, Wagner GA, Bourne PE. Ten simple rules for more objective decision-making. PLoS Comput Biol. 2020 Apr 2;16(4):e1007706. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007706
  1. Stobierski T. Harvard Business School Online. How to Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis & Why It’s Important. Available at https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/cost-benefit-analysis . Accessed October 20, 2022.

Author Bio(s):

Damianne Brand-Eubanks, PharmD is an Associate Professor at Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.  Educational scholarship interests included pain treatment/management and reduction of associated stigmas, mental/physical health and resiliency, and promotion of the field of pharmacy. In her free time Damianne enjoys rehab work for furniture and homes as well as spending time with her family.

Jonathan Thigpen is Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Curricular Innovation and Professional Development at Samford University McWhorter School of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include assessment, curriculum, admissions, and public health. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children as well as reading and watching football.

Emmeline Tran is an Associate Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. Educational scholarship interests include experiential education, metacognition, and mentorship. In her free time, she enjoys baking and crafting.

Vibhuti Agrahari is an Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Her laboratory focuses on therapeutic biomaterials and long-term drug delivery of small and large molecules for ocular/otic diseases. In her free time, Vibhuti enjoys long-distance chatting with her family in India and fun activities with her husband and daughter. 


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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