I met one of my colleagues on the stairs just before Christmas and he just turned to me and said “I hate this f***ing job!” Of course, he didn’t mean all of it – he meant the teaching and the administrative load that comes with it. He was laden down with lab reports at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that teaching is something that one should do for a limited period before it burns you out.
Now, research is another thing. No matter how run-of-the-mill your work, there is nothing quite like the feeling of doing something that nobody has ever done before. After spending 18 months on a textbook it is nice to get back to thinking about research. It makes up for the drudgery of many of the other aspects of the job and explains why researchers get so upset when research budgets are cut. It’s not really that they are fearful for the ‘knowledge economy’. They just can’t imagine an academic life without research. I am fortunate in that most of my work these days involves mathematical modelling so I’m not dependent on running an expensive laboratory. I’ll always be able to do some research no matter how bad things get.
So whenever I feel like a change of job, I think of those rare times when I can just come in and follow my nose, juggle with equations for the morning, tear them up in the afternoon and go home ready to start again the next day.