Vacations and (Un)Productivity

I was inspired by a post over at Happy Scientist discussing the vacationing tendencies of academics. Yes, I agree, there seems to be some kind of stigma associated with taking a break. Sometimes, I tell people about my beliefs concerning work-life balance, and they look at me like I have three heads.

After I completed my Ph.D., I took about 4 months off to 1) do some consulting work, 2) travel for one month in a foreign land, 3) celebrate the winter holidays, and 4) take my sweet time moving across the country. Many people at Brilliant University were surprised that I would take off for such a long period, and most of my post-doc colleagues took less than a month (sometimes less than a week) off between their Ph.D. and current position.

My Most Arrogant Colleague just recently graduated with his Ph.D. When I first met him (when he was still a grad student), I asked him what his plans were after graduation. He mentioned that he was thinking of doing a little traveling, and I encouraged him to do so, telling him about my own enjoyable experiences.

He then informed me that someone of his caliber would find no satisfaction in being so unproductive for even a few weeks. After all, taking a vacation displays a serious weakness of the mind. How could he take any kind of break from research? His talents are so immeasurable, that the world would suffer greatly if he was not working. Then again, how could I have taken such a vacation? Didn't I feel lazy and worthless? (There was a serious suggestion that, indeed, I was lazy and worthless.)

So, here we are, a few months later, and my Most Arrogant Colleague has graduated. And guess what he is doing? He has decided (in his infinite weakness) to go traveling the world for a month! I'm so glad that he could get over his massive unproductivity issues. I wish I could make him eat his words.

The Vortexer has Never Looked So Lovely

It is with great pleasure that I announce that, after a 6 month hiatus from pipettes and buffers, I have resumed experimental activities today. I could have never guessed how happy I would be about this development.

I have always found that succeeding as a researcher involves an odd combination of short periods of intense thought peppered in with long periods of repetitive, manual labor. I guess I've always found it surprising that many academics (despite being so good at using their heads) really enjoy lab work. Why is it that I get so much pleasure from something that requires so little brain power?

The simple answer: productivity (or the illusion of productivity).

I have spent several months now perusing a new body of literature, thinking deep thoughts with my right palm pressed against my sweaty forehead, wondering how I will get started, overcome by obstacles. Entire days have gone by when I haven't been able to identify a single productive element of the day, except maybe learning the definition of 'endogenous'. I have felt useless. I have felt lazy.

But today, with a swift flick of the wrist, I joyously began several long hours of pipetting. I am a little rusty; it is true. But I am busy again, and that makes me happy.

Ahh, the experimental life...