Lazy Report

Breaking news: It is, in fact, possible to feel rested. I was thinking that I would never feel relaxed and rested again in my life, and thus never again feel anything but overwhelming dread at the thought of cooking, washing dishes, cleaning clutter, any chore really… I decided it’s because I was old, fat, and lazy, but it turned out it’s indeed possible, even for my old, fat, lazy a$$.

This summer, owing to a combination of a very successful grant-writing year and boundless exhaustion, all topped off with a dollop of general boredom with my field of research, I have decided to try what everyone outside of academia thinks I do anyway: take time off during summer.

I am pleased to report that staying at home and chilling is, in fact, glorious. The kids have a smorgasbord of camp activities (the effort and time required to organize the summer for multiple kids are superhuman, as aptly described here) but are also often home. I have been taking it easy for a few weeks, wasting time online, binge-watching Netflix shows, reading, writing… I have been keeping tabs on my group, of course, as well as writing A LOT of letters for other people’s promotions (yep, I am that ancient now), but other than that — taking a break. To be honest, it sounds wrong and shameful to admit it.

The job is quite mentally and emotionally exhausting. I noticed that when I first got the job, how stressed I felt all the time, but I figured I’d just get better at it. Years went by, but the pressure hasn’t let up; in fact, it has increased: keeping up with the fields that move at a dizzying speed, remaining competitive for funds, constantly writing grants and papers and then getting slapped around by referees. Maybe I am a wuss, but it does take a toll. It’s a cumulative effect. The longer I do it, the harder it gets to make myself do it because so little of the job has to do with the exciting, brain-teasing parts of science, and so much has to do with putting yourself out there only to be bloodied and beaten up. Those of us trying to do science at the cutting edge know that the papers submitted to top journals aren’t generally wrong or uninteresting; they get desk-rejected not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they are deemed not hot enough. The same thing with funding — it’s not enough to do good work that you find exciting and that can take you in new directions; it has to be the hottest of the hot among a pretty large collection of hot topics. The gate-keeping nature of science rears its ugly head, in which you see a few big groups and their progeny effectively block outsiders from access to funding; it breaks my heart to see this play out at the detriment of some junior faculty who are supremely capable, yet pedigree-challenged for a variety of reasons.

I spend most of my workdays dealing with the politics and money in science, and too little with the students and the nourishing, exciting part of pure research.

Anyway, I am taking this summer off (well, some of it, anyway) in order to get into next year strong and ready to advise a new crop of group members (new grants, remember?). The year after next, I hope for a sabbatical and some overseas travel. I’d never had a proper sabbatical (had a baby during my so far one and only years ago); maybe working elsewhere for a while is what I need to recharge.

How is your summer going?  



  1. I definitely relate to the burnout from rejection. On a related note, I’m anxious and excited about starting a new job.

  2. Glad to hear that you are actually having a relaxing summer — you are an inspiration! 🙂 And sabbatical down the road sounds pretty great too.

    My summer… is half over and I feel like I’ve just recovered from the semester. With first-trimester exhaustion/nausea and a larger-than-normal teaching load last semester, I submitted grades minutes before the deadline, which was the night before our summer research program started, so the next day I was suddenly supervising my seven summer research students, four of whom were new or almost new (two of them started working with me spring semester, but of course didn’t get any real research done during the semester). After a week of family travel to the Midwest in June, by the end of June I felt like I was mostly done with catching up on everything I should have been doing during the semester (mostly sending comments to collaborators on the surprisingly large number of papers that they want me to give input on), just in time to bid my postdoc goodbye and prepare for the week of conference travel that I am currently on. I also said yes to a couple of referee requests that I probably should have said no to, because I know I’m going on parental leave this fall and will have to say a lot of no’s very soon. As a result, it’s mid-July and I have made zero progress on the two biggest to-do items on my list this summer, namely writing an NSF grant and drafting my research/teaching statements for my tenure portfolio. I see course prep for the fall coming in to crunch my remaining time, and I’m starting to panic a little. I already gave up on submitting a CAREER this summer, which is probably my last chance to do so, but oh well. There are only so many hours in a day, CAREER in my field now seems to be capped at the same dollar level as a regular grant (but stretched over 5 years instead of 3), and the odds are even lower than the regular grant pool, so when forced to choose between them I chose not to submit a CAREER… again. I feel a little guilty, because I think I’d be a strong contender and I know my university wants me to do it, but I just haven’t been able to convince myself that it’s the best use of my time. Good news is that my undergrad is in good shape to submit his paper to the journal before he leaves for the summer (end of next week), and with acceptance rates in my field as high as they are, and with his paper as good as it is, I have zero fear of it being rejected, so I feel that that is a major pre-tenure to-do list item checked off my list. I’ve promised myself a week of staycation in August, which is starting to seem unrealistic, but if I don’t take a break before this baby comes, bad things are likely to happen to my mental health (of course, they probably will anyway!).

    So, I assume this sounds more or less like a typical pre-tenure summer, and your post gives me hope that someday I might be able to actually feel human again during some hazy, distant future summer.

  3. Sounds glorious! I have a non-academic friend who is taking a year-long sabbatical from work and you can tell it’s been majorly restorative for him. If only academic sabbaticals were like that instead of an excuse to do research more efficiently elsewhere!

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