Academic researchers nowadays are asked to participate in a multitude of tasks outside the core remit of a scholar, which have succinctly been summarized by Scott Hawley as “to learn, to write and to teach.” Deftly handling requests for participation in “non-core” activities is an art, but is essential if one wishes to maintain an active research programme. While it is clear that email and computers have made things worse, this problem is indeed not new and we can look to history for good strategies to cope with it. Chris Beckett writes of:
A response strategy [Francis] Crick adopted in the 1960s to cope with an enormous post and to make a serious point playfully was the occasional use of a pre-printed postcard offering a number of reply options. The seventeen listed (see Figure 3) are a faithful reflection of the requests he regularly received.
While I don’t expect to have opportunity to use many of these myself in the future, and there are some that I don’t agree with rejecting outright (e.g. read your manuscript), this list serves as a checklist for non-core academic activities and a useful reminder of what we didn’t go into science for in the first place.