One thing people mention about academic freedom is the ability to work on what you want. I’m finding this to be 90% true, but what I’m noticing most is the freedom about my time. If I want to show up at 10am or skip away for a two hour lunch because a friend is visiting me I can just do it. No one questions me. I stay in contact with all my students and colleagues wherever I am (just like when I was in industry), but it’s so great to just up and decide to leave. If I want to work away from my office at the local quad or mall or whatever your local school calls the grassy area where the frat guys play frisbee, I can do it.
Ever since I was an undergrad I would eat my lunch while I was working or doing homework. This was just something I chose to do in order to get more done. When I worked before my MS, when I was in the lab working my my MS, when I worked before my PhD and my first couple years working on my PhD, I ate at my desk. Then I came across a study. I wish I could find the link for this, because in a small way I feel it changed my ways. Mostly. It’s a small thing, but I’ll get at why my new position relates to it.
This study followed people with different lunch habits. They qualitatively gaged their productivity throughout the day for people who ate at their desk versus those that went outside, and those that went to a restaurant or cafeteria. Those that went outside lived in a moderate climate where it was either too cold or too hot to eat outside for a couple months a year. Those that ate outside qualitatively felt more energized and felt they got more done throughout the day. I decided I had nothing to lose so started trying this. I went downstairs from my grad student office and started enjoying the out-of-lab world. Eventually, a labmate started joining me. We sat there talking, enjoying what’s going on around us on campus and eventually expanded it to a roughly 10 minute break around 10am and another around 3pm. Occasionally we would walk around campus for those breaks instead of taking a small food break. We both noticed instantly that we were happier and felt we got a lot more done.
When I went to industry everyone ate in a cafeteria, at a restaurant, or at their desks. I ate outside by myself for a while, and every once in a while I could get people to go to a local park. But eventually I gave in and just started eating in the cafeteria. Everyone talked work stuff and I was bored. Now I go outside to eat. Occasionally, a student will join me (did I mention how lonely a lot of these professors seem?). A couple times another prof or my lab tech (I’ll write a post on my new lab tech soon) have joined. I forgot how much better this is.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m working a shitload and I’m certain this amount of work and stress will eventually be the end of me, but I’m certain I’d have to work more to get less done if I wasn’t taking these decompression breaks.
TLDR; Go outside for your breaks. It’s good for your soul. Eating at your desk gives you crotchety madman’s disease.