This winter, my sister and her partner invited me on a trip to Peru. Growing up stories about the Peruvian Andes were common, as our mother had spent a lot of time travelling throughout the country and her travels helped shape our grandmother’s PhD research that took place in the Central highlands of Peru. Understandably, the prospect of getting to visit the country alongside my sister was a really exciting. After the invite, I chatted with my supervisor about my timeline and goals and whether she thought taking a three-week vacation was a good idea. Without hesitation she responded with “of course, you have to go” and I left the meeting excited but also I still had some internal hesitation and held off on booking flights to Lima.
These past few months have been extremely busy: teaching assistant duties, guest lectures, teaching skills enhancement program requirements, a presentation to the department, lab work, committee meeting, co-author duties, and of course general thesis writing. Retrospectively, I accomplished a lot in those couple months and I am proud of the work I did but at the time, I felt disappointed because I had not met my thesis writing goals. This disappointed fed in to my initial internal hesitation and questions filled my head: is it okay if I take time off? Everyone else seems to be working so hard right now, I am the only one who is taking a vacation? Have I done enough work to deserve vacation? It was really easy to get in my head about norms and expectations especially as Memorial (to the best of my knowledge) has no policy on personal time off. In Mid-march, I needed to confirm if I was going to Peru or not and was feeling 100% overwhelmed. I went to my supervisor for advice and again without hesitation she encouraged me to go. She stated that taking time away from a project can be a good thing and can bring new ideas and renewed motivation when you return to the project.
I called my sister and got my tickets booked! For the next month, I continued to working towards achieving my thesis writing goal often putting in longer days as if working long would justify time lost when I was away. When the week before I was scheduled to leave came around, I was fairly burnt out, which manifested itself as me rereading an introductory section multiple times without being happy with it but also not having any ideas on how to improve it. Thinking back, it was a long few months of hard work and the vacation couldn’t have been timelier for when I needed a break.
It was a pretty unbelievable trip! Firstly, it was really nice to spend time with family. Second, what a beautiful place in the world to be lucky enough to explore. We spent a handful of days hiking in the Andes, where I couldn’t help but think about the region’s ecology and of course what might be influencing treeline dynamics (FYI treeline is my area of research). While the altitude (we hiked to 4630m!!) added an extra challenge, the mountains we were hiking were spectacular and it was fascinating to see how current and past Andean cultures use the landscape. I am a mountain person, hence the focus on time spent in the mountains, but we also explored several cities, ate tons of delicious food, explored Inca ruins, and hiked through an arid canyon. Moreover, it was really nice to check-out of graduate student life for a few weeks and solely focus on experiencing Peru.
I have now been back in St John’s for a couple days and definitely am feeling ready to jump back into working on my dissertation. A little while back, a friend sent along a great blog post, titled “A la recherche de temps perdu” by Dr. Aimee Morrison in which she argues about working in the right now and forgetting about “making up for lost time”. I am going to follow her advice and not view my vacation as lost time that needs to be made up for, but as time that was needed to create a positive mindset for me to accomplish what’s next.
Till next time,