Academia can be very isolating. Sure, there are opportunities for collaboration, workshops, classes to teach, lab meetings to attend, but overall, when someone embarks on a new research project, or a dissertation, the process can seem very overwhelming and lonely. The best way I’ve found to break through the isolation is to physically come to campus and come to campus often.
When a good fifty to eighty-five percent of your job requires deep introspection, writing, reflecting, and online grant applications, it’s really easy to work from home. This can be great, especially when someone needs to work remotely thanks to field work, or due to family obligations (new baby, family illness, a partner in academia who is at a different, faraway institution), because it provides a great deal of flexibility.
However, that flexibility can come with a cost ““ I feel much more out-of-the-loop when I take long breaks from the office, and I know my peers and friends who cannot go to campus find the constant distance stressful. If all that going to campus had to offer was the ability to be in a “work” environment, then the distance wouldn’t be so stressful, and I wouldn’t be such a cheerleader for being physically present.
While I personally find a benefit to actually being in a “work” environment, I realize this isn’t a necessarily universal feeling. I like having a bit of a line between work and home, and I like having a fairly rigid weekly schedule ““ it keeps me productive and on track. But going to campus offers so much more. It offers impromptu conversations and collaborations. It means that if something comes up when I’m working, I’ve got immediate access to people and resources. It allows me to opportunity to spit-ball my ideas with someone else.
And honestly, the opportunity to discuss my ideas out loud with another person is the best part of being physically on campus. Academia can feel really isolating: everyone is doing sort of the same thing, but with enough differences that truly working together with someone is difficult. And with the weird culture of machismo surrounding how hard people work themselves, it can be tough admitting that there is a problem. Having the opportunity to casually talk about research can break down some of that isolation. It can free you from being trapped in your own head.