Friday, July 31, 2009


This month's Scientiae Carnival is "Summer days, driftin' away..."
Consider how you balance the demands and pleasures of this season. Have you found ways to make progress on your must-dos while also taking time for your family, friends - and yourself - and being in the moment of this time of year? Or are July and August just another month for you?
And just for some added synchronicity, here's a recent PhD Comic:

The first thing that went through my head when I read August's Scientiae Call was, "Holy ****, it's already August, where has my summer gone??" Summer, for most academics, is a break from classes, and a terrific time for getting lots of research done. As a postdoc, however, there's less of a definite shift, although it's nice being able to drive around campus without accidentally running over a hapless undergraduate.

Still, part of me still thinks that summer ought to be a time of huge productivity, but it always seems to fly by before I manage to get a whole lot done. (And why haven't I been better about keeping up this blog while I'm at it?) But then I realize that I've done a bunch of traveling, and actually, there's nothing wrong with that. My travel includes a week at a conference, a week of visiting family, and a week of honest-to-goodness vacation.

Conferences are great. There's the opportunity to meet and talk with people and develop collaborations, of course. I also find that conferences are a good way of taking a step back and looking at how my research fits into the big picture. I often get so caught up in the details that I forget how interesting my work is until I talk about it to someone, and they say, "wow, that's really cool!" This excitement is offset by the physical and mental toll that travel takes on me. I often feel like when I travel, I leave bits of my brain behind, and it takes a while before all the pieces make it back home again. This is especially true for the more stimulating conferences, precisely because you're thinking so intensely about work for so much of the time that it quickly becomes exhausting.

Traveling to visit family does not count as vacation in my book. I'm with Tajel's advisor on this one: "you spent the whole time thinking and obsessing about your research project." Perhaps this is because I often get the feeling of "I'm taking time away from my research to do WHAT?!?" I love my parents, but they do drive me crazy.

Now, an honest-to-goodness vacation is well worth it. The trick is to give yourself permission to relax and not fret about your research. This is harder than it sounds. But if you spare yourself the mental anguish about taking time off from work, you do yourself and your mental health a big favor. My vacation included camping, ravaging hordes of mosquitos, a rather nasty sunburn, catching up with old friends, long hours in the car, trips to the beach, and a nerd camp reunion. I loved it.

Now that summer is beginning to wind down, things seem to be suddenly starting to pile up. All those tasks that I thought I had plenty of time to accomplish before September are looming before me. Still, I think there's time to squeeze in another baseball game or a peach-picking trip or a dip in the pool. At least, I hope so.