What makes research fun?

After 2 months back in academia, here’s an ongoing list of what I like in research:

  • Smart and interesting people to work with and engage in discussions with.
  • (Very) flexible daily office hours. Actually, so flexible that I can’t keep a rhythm and sleep at reasonable hours. So I’m looking for tricks. Here’s one I’m trying! It’s an app that matches the color of your computer/phone screen to the color of the sun, so you don’t glare at daylight in the evening.
  • Working on intellectually challenging projects.
  • A vibrant environment that is the student world.
  • Belonging to a community that does great things, but also sometimes silly and fun things. Look at this, last week a team created chickens with dinosaurs feet.
  • Cheap and healthy food, good sport facilities right next to the lab. Don’t be dismissive. Google wouldn’t spend so much money on this if it didn’t matter.
  • What else? pride, prestige, common misery, the lack of office politics? not dealing with bad bosses?

Let’s forget for a moment the negative aspects of academia that can make all the points above seem irrelevant. I want to pay attention to what made me come back to research after 3 years in industry. What makes some people, like my friend, halve their salaries to do a PhD. What makes them relocate a thousand time for a postdoc position and still not leave this world.

I don’t believe it’s only because they cannot leave or have no other skills. There’s something that’s keeping them. Maybe it’s something similar to people in international relations that hold one short-term contract after another with NGOs and UN? Or to artists who also won’t quit their instable life?

I want to find out, because we all might leave one day – after all, it is a risky career. Some of you have left already and miss certain aspects of it.

Something tells me that many of the fun aspects can be reproduced, one way or the other.

Or maybe it’s hoping. I am an optimistic person.

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