When do fresh eyes expire?

Both in- and outside academia it seems a good thing to move around. A good thing job-wise, but not necessarily personal life-wise because it means having to transport yourself and your family all over the place for a next job. The #academicnomad hashtag exemplifies many of these struggles in academia, but similarly, when I interviewed for my current job one of the first things they said was that moving within the company was deemed important*.

So why is moving around a good thing? I can really only talk about around as an academic because I've only been in industry for a couple months now. In academia, I think it is mostly a good thing because it gives you fresh eyes. It gives you a different perspective and teaches you new ways to approach a problem. For example, in grad school most of the labs in my university focussed on synapses - the connections between two neurons - and how those were affected in different diseases. Many of the projects had a similar layout, which basically came down to: study synapses and their content in relation to a particular question or disease model. When I moved to do my post-doc all of a sudden people weren't talking about synapses but about circuits of neurons. Kind of the same thing but in practice a very different approach. And then I haven't even talked about how the perspective on grant writing and paper writing was different in the different places. And now that I've moved to industry I also bring a set of fresh eyes to most of the projects I work on.

But to come back to the question in the title of this post: when do these fresh eyes expire, how do you notice they have expired and how do you keep them fresh? I guess it's difficult to realize that you've been somewhere so long that you don't realize you do the same trick every time. So how do you prevent this? How can you stay creative if you don't move to a new place every so many years? Some of the things I can think of are to move around on a smaller scale: collaborate outside your own department, go to meetings you normally don't go to, etc. What about you, how do you make sure your eyes stay fresh?

*this of course does mean you have a stable job, and when having to move abroad the company handles things for you. Which is of course MUCH different than doing an eleventh post-doc in a far-away country.

5 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    One can also stay fresh and creative by bringing new people to you. Say by mentoring new graduate students or postdocs. This is the advantage of teaching undergrads, and in developing new classes.

  • dr.potnia.theron says:

    Qaz ^1000

    Your point is well taken. There are 1000's of ways to stay fresh. Go to meetings, and go to talks that are off your main stream. Go through a whole set (1oo?) posters and make yourself read every 5th one, irrespective of what its about. Go to talks in other departments. Read, read, read.

    Of course, this isn't easy, takes energy and the upside of extra donuts is not so good either.

  • […] One of the emergent concepts/ life style choices of the pure boys was "I do not go to scientific meetings because they are ego-fests and human peacocks strutting their research feathers. If people want to know what I am doing they can read my papers". I admit that I argued this one at length. I lost, mostly because pure boys never lose. But I thought of the pure boys when I read In Baby Attach Mode's latest post, When do fresh eyes expire?: […]

  • PaleoGould says:

    Go to the seminars, especially the ones that you don't immediately think are relevant. More generally, do not write off seminars, talks, posters, meeting with speakers etc.. because "what they do is not relevant to me".

  • susan6 says:

    This is one of the reasons for sabbaticals. Don't do a "staybatical". Get out of town and live in another state/country for a while. See how another lab is run day to day and how a different university works.

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