Freedom time

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.

Jeez, this sure is lonely and time-consuming

I’m usually of the attitude of taking life in-stride and having a grand time.  At least appearing that way.  At some point it’s tough to keep the facade going.  I feel like every year I’ve lived has been better than the last; a few decades going.  This year has been tough.

Back in industry this year things got nuts because of a couple projects that were priority projects and I needed to ensure things were good to pass on.  Then I took a crazy salary cut and left that life along with all of my friends.  Setting up my lab, finding students, getting into teaching, writing grants, etc. has been kicking my ass big time.  My personal life has taken a hit.  Though, living in a new town (a college town) with few friends right now makes his hit to my personal life a little easier to handle.  Then a close family death hit and I was traveling back and forth to handle death-matters.  Then I started to get migraines.  I haven’t had migraines for 5 years.  This eats into my productivity since I have trouble sleeping then I have to work longer to make up for it.  It’s a horrible cycle.  And having a small supporting network (my spouse) makes things tough.  I had no idea how lonely the professor-existence is.  And since I’m in a college town, the population diversity is practically non-existent.  Still looking for new besties. I industry I was surrounded by my peers so I made a lot of friends easily. Everyone here appears to be on an island. 

I was busier than the average person in industry when I ran my previous lab.  I travel less now, but it’s no comparison: I work more now.  A lot more.  I wish these personal things would’ve popped up when I was in industry since I had more free time.  I really can’t wait for the semester (and year) to wind down.  I know that winter break is a great time to get things done, but fuck it, I’m taking personal time off for a couple weeks.  I just need to get to the end of this year with minimal bleeding.  I knew this was going to kick my ass, but I never planned for these personal things.

So I’m not ending on a negative, I’ve gotten three grants: two reasonably big ones and one kind of smaller one.  Two are major nonprofits (hint: Federal agencies), and one’s from my old company.  In addition, mentoring my lab students has been so freaking rewarding and my students in-class are insanely well receptive.  They’re engaged and smart.  I haven’t developed any new collaborations I really want to continue to pursue, but there are a few prospects.  Earlier this week I got a World’s Best Advisor* mug (those that read PhD comics know what I’m talking about).  And this Thanksgiving I’m having some of my students and other students in our department over for a meal and some games.