Friday, August 29, 2008

My Summer Vacation or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Laptop

I haven't written a post specifically for a carnival for a while, though Bora was kind enough to include one of my posts in the first edition of Praxis. Actually, I haven't been writing many posts at all lately, and part of the reason is Summer. Which just happens to be the theme of this month's Scientiae Carnival hosted by Lab Cat.

Summer vacation is a bit of a paradox for those of us who have school aged children who have it, but jobs or training positions that don't. During the school year, things are nice and predictable. Thing 1 goes to (public) school each morning by 8 am, has actual classes until 2 pm, walks to another part of the school and attends an extended day program until 6 pm at which time some adult picks her up and brings her home for dinner and family time. Thing 2 goes to daycare on the same schedule. Rinse, sleep, and repeat, Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday are for the soft restart. So, although everyone is kind of running on a hamster wheel all week, unless I have something unusually taxing to do, like a 36 hour long protocol to do, it's not too hard to be productive during the school year.

Everything changes when school closes for the summer. Thankfully, Thing 2 is in a daycare that stays open for all twelve months of the year, but I have to start planning (and paying for) stuff for Thing 1 to do starting in January if I even want to come close to covering all 10 weeks of her summer vacation. It takes a siginificant amount of research to find suitable day camps that don't cost twice as much per week as the extended day program costs per month. Even still, many of the those are so mind-numbingly boring that she begs me not to make her go each morning. The rest tend to have such short schedules that it is nearly impossible to get anything done between drop-off and pick-up. Previous summers I have been so strapped for time that I would have to pick Thing 1 up during some incubation, take her back to the lab with me, and install her at my computer playing games for a couple of hours, just so I could finish up my experiment for the day. Needless to say, the disjointed and compressed work schedule feels like anything but a vacation, so when people would ask me if I was looking forward to the summer, I'd usually force a smile and nod noncommitally, while inside I was screaming - what the hell do I have to look forward to, exactly? My thesis isn't going to write itself while I hang at the beach with the kids, now is it? And OMG, have I mentioned how broke I am? Whaaaaaa!

But I decided to make this summer different. The experiments I needed to run were not particulary long in terms of time at the bench, but required a lot of time for data analysis. So, I decided not to worry so much about how many hours I spent in the lab, since it doesn't really matter where I sit at a computer and pore over raw data and analysis scripts. I left quite early almost every day for a whole month and even took the time to shuttle Thing 1 to a dance class she wanted to take in the afternoon. I did a lot of work on my laptop at all different times of the day and in all kinds of different places. Sometimes I went in to the lab on the weekend. Then hubby took over the transportation of Thing 1 to a camp near where he works, so I had a few weeks of something similar to my normal schedule. My PI and I had set a goal for a certain set of experiments to be done by the end of all the summer camp I had lined up for Thing 1, and I did it. I'm not about to pretend that I was cool as a cucumber through it all, but it didn't totally suck.

Then we went on a real vacation, for the first time since before Thing 2 was born. Hubby and I both took almost two weeks off so we could go to an unnamed family vacation mecca for ten days. The longest vacation we have ever taken since our honeymoon. But the best part about it was that I didn't feel like I was so behind that I couldn't afford not to take work along with me. Though I did falter in my resolve a little at the last minute, I smacked myself and reminded myself that I'd been taking work all over town with me all summer. I took a couple of papers that I wanted to read, but in the end I didn't even look at them. Past years I would have been facing this last weekend of summer, feeling that I hadn't done enough of anything. Wishing I'd spent more time having fun with the kids, annoyed that I hadn't made enough progress in my research, frustrated by friends and family members who didn't understand that even though I'm a student I don't have the whole summer off to just chill and tired from trying to fit too much into too short a day for too many days straight. For once I feel like after this weekend, I will be ready to dig into everything with renewed energy rather than a sense of desperation.


Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Inspiring post! I love that you were able to hit your research goal by a preset time--I have zero kids but basically never accomplish that, so it's even more impressive. Way to make it work.

ScienceGirl said...

Very impressive! Glad you got to enjoy the summer while being so productive!