Having gaps between research jobs is not uncommon. Research funding is surprisingly sensitive to politics and I think anyone over the age of 16 is well aware that politics is about as consistent as a random number generator that’s been thrown in a washing machine.
I’ve met very few researchers that have managed to avoid having a month or two between research jobs. During a research job the idea of having a couple of months break sounds amazing, but it’s not all sunny beaches, sangria and panic attacks about paying rent, you need to make sure that your highly tuned research skills stay honed and polished.
So for any researchers on or soon to be on a research sabbatical here’s a list of things you can do to keep yourself trained during breaks in research contracts.
1. Read a book
Reading is always amazing and should go without saying. However, reading a book for pleasure and reading for research are very different things.
Personally when I’m reading a book I enjoy I really get into them and find it hard to persuade myself to do much else until I’ve finally got to the big climax moment where I discover why there is Jam covering the whole city. I also don’t want to miss any of the plot so take care to read carefully.
However, as a researcher you need to try and practice the more common style of reading – research reading. Now, most research reading is best done by not doing any at all. Just by having the books on your shelf you are already reading them like most researchers. If for any reason you feel the need to actually read them then you need to simply skip around the book for the important plot points in about 5 mins then return it to the shelf never to be opened again.
2. Teach your cat how to drink coffee
Coffee breaks are important. Without coffee breaks I am pretty sure most of the world’s great discoveries wouldn’t have been made… or might have been made slightly later by a much grumpier scientist.
To make sure you don’t get out of the habit you need to maintain a strict coffee break schedule with those in your new home workspace. Cats typically don’t like coffee, but if you start with a bowl of mostly cream, with a very small amount of coffee, then ween them on to full strength they’ll be chugging cups of Java in no time (maybe stick to decaf though, I’m not sure what a caffeinated cat would be like and I’m not sure anyone needs to find out).
You can also try and teach them small talk but I’ve never got my cat to do much more than give me a surly look.
3. Take up baking
This is most relevant for researchers that come from some kind of lab based research. Not being in labs on a regular basis can mean you feel a bit out of it when you get back. Luckily there is a home version you could do daily – cake baking.
Making cakes is essentially chemistry but with a higher risk of obesity. Baking a cake requires: accurate measuring, careful pouring, mixing strangely coloured substances and chocolate chips – all things present in the best chemistry experiments. Making a small cake every day will give you the practiced hand of a chemist/baker.
Obviously baking every day you are going to be generating a lot of cake. Much like most experiments my advice is to poorly label the cake and put it in a box to ‘save just in case’, then throw it out in a few days time to make more room for cake.
4. Write, never stop writing
The average researcher writes almost 100 billon words a day. While completely made up, this number does accurately represent the number of words it FEELS like researchers write everyday in e-mails, notes, papers, applications, replies to disciplinary letters and lab books.
Unemployment doesn’t lend itself to writing but there are plenty of places you can still regularly practice.
Firstly, there’s social media. All your friends and ex colleagues will want to know all about your unemployed life, so be sure to post lots of updates about being in your dressing gown at 11:00am. Also, if you’re struggling to find content, just post a political opinion and in no time at all you’ll have written hundreds of words arguing with strangers on the internet.
Secondly, why not take up blog writing? Being an unemployed researcher I’m sure would be very interesting to people and giving everyone some insight would be great. Just for a start why not write a blog post about all the things you are doing between research jobs?