Taking a Break

Scandal: This PhD student took a break and why you should too!



Last Saturday, my partner and I packed up the car and the puppy, drove down to Southampton and took a ferry across to the Isle of Wight, somewhere we'd both spent happy holidays as children. We rented a tiny apartment near the beach on the East coast and it felt like paradise. We spent the week going for long walks, relaxing in beachside cafes and eating in amazing restaurants all with a stunning backdrop of sun (very lucky for September), sea and sand. This was the first vacation and the longest period of leave either of us had taken since the pandemic began.

I like to think we've done a fairly good job of separating our work from the rest of our lives: We're both very fortunate to have separate study's that allow us to close the doors and leave our work behind at the end of each day, we aim to take an hour for lunch together at 12 and finish work by 6pm, and we don't work on weekends. However, while these physical and timely separations help, my brain doesn't always adhere to that strict 6pm cut-off time. It doesn't always feel like I've finished work for the day when I know my desk is only a few feet away and I often find myself thinking about my work and what I need to be doing tomorrow over dinner in the evenings.

There are many circles, particularly in academia, that are rife with a toxic productivity mindset that view any time off, even evenings and weekends, as sacrilegious. I see a lot of people on academic-twitter sharing it like a badge of honour that they work 12-14 hour days, don't take breaks or annual leave, and don't socialise on the weekend because they're working. I'm very lucky to be part of a lab that is fighting against that mindset: We don't send emails or expect replies in the evenings or over the weekend and we actively encourage each other to take our annual leave allowance. I cannot stress enough the wellbeing benefits of this or encourage other PhD students to do the same.

I was starting to feel quite burned-out before this break. I love my research but, without any teaching over the summer and not being allowed in the office, the days sat alone at the same desk felt increasingly monotonous. It was so refreshing to leave the house/workplace for a week, turn off email notifications on my phone and leave the laptop behind. This is the first time I've mentally left my work behind since beginning my PhD. I've returned feeling energized and with a restored sense of wellbeing, eager to start up my work again. This was exactly what I needed before the new academic year begins.