Introducing the academic-two-month-holiday

I am from Northamptonshire which was, once upon a long time ago, the shoe manufacturing centre of the UK. My first actual job was working a few mornings in my grandfather’s heel factory. It was through this link that I was first introduced to the concept of the ‘Factory Fortnight’.

The ‘Factory Fortnight’ is essentially when all the factories in the local town shut down for 2 weeks and everyone went on holiday. It was designed to make sure that families got to spend their holiday together, if they worked in different factories in the town. It was the product of a world before mass travel and exotic holidays. A relic of a different time… sort of.

Over the last 5 years in academia, I’ve realised that this concept is far from dead – it’s alive and kicking.

Wave reserach

Every year like clockwork, around mid-July, the universities start slowly emptying of academic staff. The trigger appears to be the school holidays. Little Tarquin is off from his school/university/correctional facility and needs looking after. So swathes of academics reach for their holiday booking systems and take big blocks of time off to make ensure that Tarquin gets that unique family holiday experience that years of therapy are helping me repress. This starts a cascade of holiday. Quite a few academics have kids and loosing around a 1/4 of the faculty all at once does tend to slow things down a bit which starts a snowball of holiday.

Universities exist on paperwork, signs-offs and bureaucracy. Every university has a web of complex sign-offs and agreements that would make a sane person’s head spin. Loosing a big chuck of the people who do some of that ‘vital’ signing and filing quickly puts a big pause on anything not super-dooper urgent (hint: if it’s not their work it’s probably not going to fall into that category). So things get pushed back a few weeks until after the holidays. The traditional route of discovering this kind of delay is normally by e-mailing someone with something that you need back in 24 hours, only to get the dreaded auto-reply of “Sorry I’ll be back in 4 weeks”.

So faced with work slowing to a halt, any remaining researchers quickly start thinking “Well, I’ve got to use the holiday eventually…” and so they start leaving on holidays. Although without the kids, they go on fun exciting holidays like trekking in Nepal or climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (both actual trips taken by an non-child laden co-worker of mine… of whom I may be a bit jealous).

By this point about 3/4 of the research factually have fled for more intresting climes. The only ones who are left are the researchers who never take holidays, who are possibly married to their retort stands (it was a small wedding, brides family didn’t want to make a fuss), who are wrapped up enough in their own research not to notice the many empty desks around them, and the PhD students.

Now the PhD students, faced with no direct supervision or pushy post-Docs, I would expect to abuse the hell out of their university grade internet connections and watch movies for 5 weeks. However, the students in my labs appear to be broken as for some reason all they do is work. I think the chemicals in the labs have driven them insane.

My response to all this?

Well I’ve taken the week off, so I’ll get back to you on that.

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