Hello there bloggies and welcome to another edition of Trainee Tuesday!

I am about to take my first extended vacation during my postdoc. I will be out of the office for 8 whole business days as I head off on a Scandinavian adventure. It will be the longest I’ve been out of lab since I started here last summer. Words cannot come close to expressing how excited I am for this trip and how much I needed a break from research.

But, there is a nagging feeling in the back of head and the pit of my stomach. It’s the omnipresent feeling of guilt. Guilt for not spending my days working my butt off in lab with my colleagues. Guilt for not producing data or analyses. Guilt for not writing papers. Whenever I ask for vacation time I also feel this guilt and anxiety. I’m abandoning my projects and collaborators, all just to recharge my batteries some. How lame am I?

Logically, I know that we all need vacations from lab, even us postdocs and grad students. Everyone takes time off. But, why do we trainees feel so much guilt about taking a breather?

Every grad student or postdoc feels an immense sense of ownership of his or her work. Sure advisers and collaborations contribute to the research, but the individual trainee completes the vast majority of the work. It’s their baby. Thoughts of how to troubleshoot an experiment or what the next step should be inevitably creep into thoughts late at night right before sleep, in the shower, or while on vacation. If you are away, you can’t act on these thoughts and are stuck in the unenviable position of pending actions or endless to-do lists.

As the grad student and postdoc is the main driving force behind their projects, it rests upon them to move their projects forward. If a trainee is away on vacation, then they are certainly not in a lab. Not being in lab means no progress. Trainees are under considerable pressure to make progress. PIs are starved for data and findings. Collaborators always need an update. Thesis committees are demanding tangible evidence of progress. Job search committee require more and more publications, skills, and activities just to be considered for positions.

Not only that, but trainees are under pressure from friends and family. Partners try to plan out a future together. Parents and extended family constantly ask when you are going to graduate or get an adult job. Friends make progress in their own professional and family lives. It all comes together to ramp up the pressure and desire to push projects along.

But, perhaps the biggest source of trainee guilt comes from the trainee themselves. As grad students and postdocs, we have learned to push ourselves to incredible lengths in attempts to solve ridiculously complex problems. We are also not accustomed to encountering a problem or question that we couldn’t equal. We want to prove to ourselves, our colleagues, and advisers that we are worthwhile and that we are up for the challenge. What’s worse is that we love to compare ourselves to our colleagues and peers. I know that I have the awful tendency to compare how long I’m in the lab or how many publications I have to the other postdocs. It’s a tough habit to break.

But, recognizing that trainee guilt largely comes from the individual is important. As long as deadlines have been met and projects are moving forward, it is perfectly fine (and better for your research and mental health) to escape from the lab for a bit. Guilt doesn’t help you in anyway and usually isn’t warranted. Take care of your work and take care of yourself! Go on vacation whether it’s traveling or a stay-cation!

Thank you for stopping by Trainee Tuesday! Do you ever feel Trainee guilt? About what? How do you get over it? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.

Tomorrow I get on a jet plane and head off to Sweden. Wishful Wednesday will be up a little earlier than usual!

See you then!

-Dr. F

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