Let me tell you about my breakfast


Trust me, this is about science.

I’m working from home today. I saw my kid off on his carpool, and my spouse off to work. And I thought, I’m going to make myself a nice breakfast.

I got out a poblano, and some cheese and cilantro:


I sliced the poblano into some strips and cooked ’em up:


I steamed the tortillas in the microwave and assembled the tacos:


And then there’s some coffee, the morning funnies and the rest of the newspaper:


And then — obviously — I wrote this blog post.

Here’s what I’m thinking, as I’m making these tacos: “This is extraordinarily pleasant. I’m enjoying this so much. This is a lot more appealing than everything else in front of me today.” Perhaps part of the reason I made a nice breakfast is that it’s a useful form of procrastination. (Arguably, the same can be said of this post.)

Here’s the rub: the work on my plate today is actually pretty good stuff. What am I doing? I’m making plans for a experiments that start in three weeks, in Costa Rica. I am running some analyses for a pretty good paper that I’m working on. I’m assembling a dataset to send to a collaborator. And I’m finally getting to an outline of a review/polemic paper that I’ve been thinking about for years. And I’m going to zip out for some exercise, and today is absolutely gorgeous.

But what will my favorite part of the day will be, until I get to see my family this evening? Making those tacos.

What does this say about me as a scientist and as a person? I doubt I should quit my job and become a cook. Does it mean I need a sabbatical? Probably.

I’m planning to make serious progress on three papers, all of which are interesting to me, one of which I’m delusional enough to think that it might actually be important. But frankly, as I’m putting these papers together I feel more like a carpenter than a chef or a scientist. These papers might end up being well-cited, or maybe not, but regardless, it’s just another notch in a long series of notches. Science is incremental, even when we make what seem like big leaps at the moment, they’re small steps in the big picture.

At least this morning, I feel like half of the motivation for getting this work done is that I’m supposed to get it done. That’s what scientists do. They publish science. But if that’s the actual motivation for doing the work, then it’s not sustainable. We are so often acculturated into thinking that science is supposed to be driven by passion, but for many, it’s first and foremost a paying job. Today, I’m doing my job, working on those papers. Hopefully, next week, I’ll find myself more excited about them. In the meanwhile, I can look forward to making a nice dinner for my family tonight.

5 thoughts on “Let me tell you about my breakfast

  1. This is awesome, and I couldn’t agree more! Feel this sort of thing all the time. Every once in a while there’s a burst of excitement from spending an afternoon trying something new in the lab, but it’s generally not a daily euphoria like these tacos.

    But maybe don’t be so hard on yourself? Taking a little extra time to take care of yourself is pretty important, and probably something we all chronically neglect… making it harder to get excited about the ever-growing to-do list of activities building up behind breakfast.

    I suspect more regular self-love (e.g. special breakfast tacos) would make the rest of our daily activities less taxing and all the more pleasurable.

  2. It may be an illness of academia to falsely believe that one’s research is the most enjoyable activity in one’s life, rather than time with one’s family or other simple enjoyable things. I can and do enjoy my work, but I do not pretend that it is–beyond the small amount of enjoyment I gain from learning, thinking, discovering, and helping–something greater than necessary employment.

  3. I think that the other thing that might be at play here is that making breakfast is quick and has a definite end point. You can actually finish it within a short amount of time and the outcome is clear. Many of my science projects take years to complete and even at that point there are more questions to answer, so you’re never really done. Often cooking, gardening, exercising etc. are very satisfying because your progress is crystal clear and when you are finished, you really are finished.

  4. I see you go straight for the comics.😉

    Seriously though, thank you for this.

  5. Great post. I’m with Z.L. (above) – the idea that academics should be mainly driven by passion is often used against us! I’m not sure about your discipline or national context, but where I am, in the humanities in Australia, the workload just keeps getting jacked up and hours keep getting longer, and research often has to be done in the evening or on the weekends, and one of the main reasons people don’t jump up and down about it more is because we are supposed to do it for the love of it!!

    That said, I do like my job much of the time. But I really like my kids, my garden, my kayak… etc.etc. too!

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