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July 03, 2012

A working holiday? How about a thinking holiday? – by Tom

They say a change is as good as a rest. After a barrage of conferences and an upgrade which effectively meant a downgrade for my confidence, I needed to run away. So run away I did.

Or rather, flew away, and went on a family holiday. Ten days of sun, lie-ins, boozy board-games, and being stung by strange European insects: ‘twas bliss. Once or twice, I will admit, I did think to myself, ‘Hang on, this is doing nothing for my word-count or my grand conceptual frameworks which have so recently been found wanting.’ On those occasions, I often poured myself another drink and ate some more cheese (to be fair, I don’t have to be on holiday to eat cheese…but it helps). But I just couldn’t shake that niggling doubt that I was just being lazy, neglecting my research at a time when I needed to get my head down and produce some work worthy of an upgrade.

Now I’m back, and it all makes sense. Granted, it took me a few days to get back into the academic mode, but I soon found that all those nagging problems I had with my research now seemed a little easier, maybe even conquerable. I can do this! Needless to say, it did wonders for my self-confidence. A month or two ago, I was beginning to wonder why I was even bothering, but now, now I can’t wait to get back to the archives, back to the seminar, even back to my supervisor’s office.

Turns out, of course, that during all those hours seemingly wasted playing Monopoly with pieces of cheese (there really was a lot of cheese), or watching a sun set whilst sinking a beer, my mind was ticking away like some mischievous hard-drive, searching, always searching, for answers, solutions, and questions. I didn’t know it, of course; all I could think about was my sunburn. In a strange way, the best thing for me to do about my PhD was to not do it for a while. And I don’t mean have a little ten-minute break, I mean leaving the laptop in another country, and talking to people who know nothing about my research, and (here’s the clincher) don’t really care.

Maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe it’s all the cheese talking. But all I know is that when it seemed laughable that I could carry on, what my research and my self-confidence needed was a temporary change, a chance to turn my mind to other things. Now I’m back, feeling fresh as a daisy, and craving cheese.

Seriously, SO much cheese…

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