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Academic vacation: things you need to know before going abroad.

Taking some well-deserved time off? I hear you. Being an academic is hard work. There are the classes, the research, but most of all there is the publish or perish mentality which has taken over at most of the big universities out there. This can be incredibly stressful.

More importantly, however, it often means that academics – instead of taking the time to actually think long-term and work on what they want – are forced to think about what results they can publish right now. That’s both hugely stressful and ultimately limits innovation and the big ideas on which science is really built.

One of the best ways to get out from under that heel is to take advantage of the vacation days you’ve been given. Instead of saying ‘oh great, the students are leaving for the summer, now I can focus on my research’ why not actually leave yourself? It can be hugely beneficial. Here are some things to consider.

Don’t just see this as an opportunity to work somewhere else

Look, I get it. There is a lot to do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take any time off whatsoever. You may think that if you don’t work every day you’ll end up falling behind and then you won’t get your contract extended but the evidence actually points the other way. Taking real holidays benefits your productivity. That’s because these moments away allow you to pause and reflect – something that sometimes happens consciously and sometimes is a subconscious process.

This can only happen, however, if you actually take time off. If you instead just take your work with you and continue the work routine in a different location, then obviously you’re not actually taking any time off. Instead, you’re just getting a different view from your window (not that you’re really looking anyway).

Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to take every day off. But do promise yourself that you’ll take off at least half of the time. And make it a full-day thing to. Two half days might feel like the same thing, but they’re not.

Be on the lookout for those unreasonable demands

If you actually want to get time off then you want to make sure that your colleagues or management don’t hijack your time just before you go. They will try. You can see them coming by their ‘just’ requests. ‘Could you just finish that report before you head off’ or ‘could you just quickly help me with this before you go’ are warnings that they’re just about to make yet another claim on your time.

The problem, of course, is that often it isn’t just one person who does it. Often everybody is frantically begging for you to do everything. And then suddenly you lose sight of the trip abroad behind a mountain of work so intimidating you wake up with tuffs of hair in your hands.

The best solution? Don’t go when everybody else goes. If you’re in the fortunate position of having a semester where you don’t have any classes to teach, why not go then instead of during the summer holidays? Flights will be cheaper and your colleagues will probably not be aware you’re heading off and therefore not make unreasonable demands off of you.

Even better, you’ll get to work at the university during the best months – those when the weather is good and it’s not a mad house with students asking for paper advice.

The academic trip vacation combo

One of my absolute favorite ways to sneak in a holiday is by taking one just before or after an academic trip. Often, if you play your cards right, you can make sure the university pays for the flight tickets – since you’d need flights in both directions anyway.

Then you can go places that are different and unique – places you might not normally go anyway. What’s more, because lots of other people who attend these conferences and meetings are thinking the same thing, it’s a great time to see if you can’t do something with one of the academics you actually like.

Rent a cabin somewhere on the coast, buy lots of wine and instead of actually doing any work, just talk. You can gripe, you can gossip, but best of all you can come up with new research ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

Because, let’s face it. The best holiday buddies for academics are other academics. There is just no way around that fact. We’re a breed apart and where Ann and Jeff from down the street are really nice, they just don’t get that part of who you are.

The vacation celebration

Another worthwhile moment to take a vacation is just after a serious accomplishment. Say, your research came out as you wanted it or you just published a paper in a high-standing journal. The reasons these moments are so great for taking off is that your happy and for a short time you don’t actually feel guilty for taking time off.

This happy state of affairs can lead to all sorts of creative insights. Even if they don’t, don’t your family and friends deserve to see you at your best and your most happy? So be with them during these moments in time when you’re at your best and your relationship with them will become all the better for it.

Last words

Your work is great. It might change the world. But that doesn’t mean you can sacrifice everything you are at its altar. In fact, doing so will ultimately probably hurt you more than it will benefit you. We’re not robots. We need to enjoy what we’re doing for us to do well at it. And sometimes the best way to enjoy what we’re doing is to get away from it.

For that reason, use your vacation days. Get out there and see the world. Ultimately, you’ll be better for it. Even better, when you’ve done it a few times and realized the benefit you’ve gained you can start going without that feeling of guilt hanging over you. And that’s when it becomes really fun.

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