The 5 stages of coming back to the lab after a holiday

The holiday season is over. The students are starting to arrive at university labs, and parents are busy panicking as they realise that none of their kids’ school kit from last year fits now.

Researchers everywhere, in academia and in industry, are slowly returning from whatever sunny locale they have managed to hide in sporadically for the last 2 months. I spent a very nice few weeks in a locked Faraday cage with padded walls – I can thoroughly recommend it.

But the time has come to take a deep breath and accept your fate and begin your journey through the 5 steps for returning from your holiday break.

Step 1. Denial

This step starts about 10 microseconds after your alarm goes off on your first morning back and, with your eyes still closed, for a moment you try to believe that you’re still dreaming and you actually just fell asleep next to the pool and that’s the dinner bell. I’ve also suffered from the exact opposite of this when I’ve panicked when waking up on holiday because I think I’ve missed my alarm. Although, that story ends with me rolling over happily in bed, not jumping up and frowning my way to the shower.

Step 2. Grumbling

Now it’s still too early in the morning for getting too animated about anything but as you get everything ready for your day, most people find they employ the therapeutic method know as low level grumbling.

This stage is low energy (best for early mornings) and can be sustained almost perpetually. A more seasoned researcher will be able to keep this grumbling up at a low level practically all day – I’ve met some who have been in this state since their first ever holiday. They are true masters of the Grumble.

Step 3. Procrastination

It’s amazing how many not-work jobs you can find to do while you are trying to avoid starting work. For example, I bet your lab bench is in a mess and seeing as you are coming back to work, why don’t you spend a few minutes sorting out all your cables so you start with a nice tidy work space. Also, why not check if all the tip boxes are full. You can’t possibly start work with half empty tip boxes.

Like the grumbling, depending on experience, this stage can last a while. I’ve know bosses that I’m pretty sure have been stuck at this stage since they had a half a day off in 1986.

Step 4. Biscuits and Coffee

Seeing as you’ve already tidied up and generally moved things from one side of the lab to the other, it’s obviously time you relaxed and had a nice calming cup of coffee. I mean you can’t start back at work proper until you’ve had at least 3 cups of coffee – and possibly a biscuit. Post holiday coffee breaks are always rife with people bringing back strange biscuits from strange far off lands like Bognor Regis. If you’re lucky, there might even be some chocolate. Work can wait until after you’re sufficiently  caffeinated and have saturated your blood with sugar. It’s practically a health and safety issue.

Step 5 . Acceptance

Eventually you reach a place where you can put it off no more – either the guilt of not actually doing anything productive, or worse yet a student, will find you and you’ll have to drag your brain finally kicking and screaming back to work and the uncalibrated and probably broken mess you’ll now need to slowly put back together.

Whatever you do don’t check your e-mail account yet – that takes at least 10 more steps of slow build up and mental preparation.

Email splosion

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