It’s incredible how much the Australian landscape looks nothing like a laboratory. I just spent a week travelling through the interior not by plane or train but by car. And for no particular reason other than it is a really great way to spend a holiday.
The trouble with research is that it is all about details. While details are critically important for progress to be made and problems to be solved, the constant focus on details can create a closed mind-set. The result is that we researchers can forget to look up from our daily pattern of struggling from one detail to the next and see the broader picture of what we are working towards.
Taking regular breaks should be compulsory for anyone working in research. This provides time for rethinking projects, reassessing priorities and even some problem-solving.
Driving holidays are really useful for this sort of time out. Kilometre upon kilometre of clear thinking space complete with great music and a multitude of snack food. Nothing speaks of leaving the lab behind like passing mobs of kangaroos and emus in the open plains.
Of course other holidays are great for time-out and clear thinking. The key is to get away from the lab bench and that’s the hard part. There’s so often ‘just one more thing’ that needs doing and then the next time you look up, 6 months have passed.
My mentor once told me that it’s always a bad time to have holidays, but if you don’t plan for them, you never take them. Sage advice. Now I lock in holidays far in advance and work around them. And every single time, I am completely flat out busy getting things done before I go and yet I always return refreshed and eager.
Any sort of break is essential to clear the head and see all the mistakes that can happen when spending all the time looking at details. We just need to remember to take that break.