Last month we traveled as a family to Corsica for a real honest to goodness vacation. We spent days on the beach and exploring medieval towns. It was mostly sunny and warm and relaxing.
But…I did bring my computer. I had minor heart palpitations when I realised that the cottage we were staying in did not come with internet but it helped me actually have a vacation. I was reduced down to a few hurried email sessions at cafes or restaurants where I answered the most critical emails and sent off a few promised items. I worked a little on a paper I’m currently facing down a deadline for but not nearly enough to make this week back to work a breeze. So I vacationed but I didn’t truly drop everything. I rarely do. Some might find this a horrid part of the job—flexible enough to always follow you around but for others that is some of the joy of academic life.
I’m curious how many academics really take full vacations where they don’t look at work at all. I can’t say I worked hard but I can’t say that I left everything behind either. I have difficulty leaving home for any period of time more than a night without taking my computer with me. I think I’m pretty good at striking a reasonable work/life balance most/some of the time. But I don’t often just let work go. Sure for a few hours, a weekend or so I have no problem tuning out my research and work responsibilities but for longer times I always feel like I might want to do a little bit here or there, so along comes the computer or whatever.
Rarely truly leaving work is one aspect of carrying my work around with me. The other is that I have a tough time turning off the scientist in me. I used to just love being outdoors for its own stake. The longer I spend in academia, the more I also look at the world as a potential project or research question. I don’t want it to sound like I don’t appreciate nature anymore, I do. But there is often a little voice in my head that frames questions that are not simply curiosity driven but in terms of hypotheses and grant ideas. On Corsica I looked at plants with dry fruits still clinging to the plants and thought: “hmmm, that would be convenient for estimating fitness”. I can’t help but examine the species around me and think about what would be interesting evolutionary and ecological questions. And while I didn’t ever pick flowers and ‘do the work’ while on vacation (I guess that is my daughter’s impression of what I do), I did think about what I could do if I were to work on Corsica. And I have no intention of switching my research there, it just seems that I can’t help but have these questions pop into my head. There’s really nothing wrong with it and I don’t even mind (probably why I do what I do!) but I generally keep my musings to myself. Not everyone wants to discuss floral ecology and evolution on vacation!
So even if I leave my computer behind, it is unlikely I will ever have a vacation from my scientist brain. How about you?