Being an unemployed researcher is hard. The sofa is almost insufferably comfortable, there is a real risk of accidental coffee break overdose and the amount of cake you consume is frankly criminal.
So last week I explained 4 things to help a temporally out of work researcher stay up to date with their hard learnt skills. But there’s more to research than just those 4, so this week here’s another 4 to make sure unemployment can be as useful as possible.
If you want to be able to return to the research workforce raring to go then start doing these 4 vital unemployed activities.
1. Invite yourself to meetings every week
Meetings are the life blood of researchers, which is to say if you have less meetings, researchers tend to get all light headed and sleepy.
Being able to survive the meeting experience is a skill that if lost can cause severe culture shock when you return to work. So while you’re having a break you need to ensure that you find a way to practice having meetings.
The easiest way to do this is to set yourself up with a regular weekly meeting time. Make sure it’s at the most inconvenient time and schedule it for at least an hour. At the allotted time it’s important to arrive on time and then sit for a while waiting for everyone else to turn up. This should adequately simulate the typical meeting which always starts with everyone being late and/or it being cancelled without you knowing. You can also use the time to practice playing your self noughts and crosses.
2. Rearrange all your herbs and spices
Good management of your lab kit or research tools is something that I’m sure we all understand. It is also something that people are nearly universally terrible at (I might just be talking about myself, if I am please don’t tell me I want to believe everyone is as bad at me at organising things). But stocktaking and keeping things neat is something we should all aspire to doing more of.
Obviously this is a difficult skill to keep up with at home. The best alternative is to reorganise all the herbs and spices pots periodically. Much like anything in the lab they are easy to sort into a ‘perfect’ system which will then be abandoned the second you need one of them in a hurry in the middle of making a curry.
If you want the true lab experience, then about once a week randomly mix them up and completely empty several of them before putting the empty jars back. This will better prepare you for organising things around colleagues.
3. Add more paper work to your shopping
Purchasing in research is to research what the 3 trials are to Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, overly complicated and one misstep will result in a 90s special effect based death. Without experiencing the seemingly impossible level of bureaucracy on a regular basis you may become complacent and start expecting buying things to be a simple process.
So to make sure you never forget how over-complicated buying even simple things is you need to instigate a strict paperwork based purchasing system at home. Start simple, anything to be added to the shopping list needs to go on a ‘shopping list application’ list. Once a week transfer things from the application to the shopping list which you then action on a monthly basis.
There is a small chance you might run out of food before you manage to go shopping but honestly that sounds like you didn’t plan your food ahead enough and is a problem with you not the system.
4. Write incomprehensible notes
Lab books are important things. Not important for other people, to other people they look like the random scribbles of a drugged up dyslexic monkey. They are important to you so that you actually remember what past-you did and so you can learn from past-you’s mistakes and hopefully allow future-you to enjoy some celebratory cake when your experiment works.
Being at home there isn’t much call for a lab note book so you need to try and improvise. Grab a simple note book and put it by the bed, when you get up in the morning (or as you’re unemployed possibly early afternoon) write the date on a clean page and then tuck it into your dressing gown
Now as you go about your day to day life you can happily make notes on what you do with important values written down. Obviously most people’s days don’t have a lot of values to write down so you might have to improvise, but start with some bullet points setting out how to make a cup of tea. Much like a real lab book they don’t need to be any good or actually readable, it’s just important that it’s recorded somewhere… albeit incomprehensibly.