The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the only week of the year that it’s okay – may I even say, expected – to not show up in lab. The university is closed, most of the support staff for the core research facilities are off, and all of the PIs are home with their families. As for the labs, though, while most of them are dark this entire week, not all of them are – and this year, my lab is one of those up and running. I’ve planned experiments that I need to come in for on December 25-27, and another graduate student in my lab has plans to be in from the 24-26.
In January, I’m relocating to Paris for about 7 months to work in a lab there on a project related to my thesis research – but in a different model system than is being used in my lab here. So, any experiments that I need or want to get data from in my current system either need to happen before mid-January, or not until September. As it happens, revisions for my first-author manuscript (a requirement for graduation from my program) came back in early December, with a deadline of 90 days to resubmit. I’m leaving for France in only 30 days from now (I had 45 days left when I got my reviewer comments), and while my labmates are willing to help keep my project moving along while I’m away, I still would like to do as much as possible myself before leaving, both for the sake of consistency as well as to not burden them with yet another project. As such, it makes sense for me to work later into the year so that I have the time to get experiments finished and my manuscript resubmitted before leaving for France. Knowing myself, I’m also sure that getting a few experiments out of the way now will alleviate some of the stress I’m sure to feel once January arrives.
I’m in my 4th year of grad school, and this year will be my first year working over the winter holidays. My first year I was doing lab rotations, and those break in line with the university’s academic calendar. My second year I went to my parents’ for more than 2 weeks in December, and last year I took a 3 week cross-country train trip in December/January. Each of those breaks lined up with my motivations for the holiday season each year – i.e. I’d completed the experiments I’d set out to do in the weeks after Thanksgiving, could afford (both financially and with my time) to take off from lab, and decided that it was personally the best decision to take time off.
There are reasons to desire a break in the winter, as well as reasons to work. Having done both, I believe that the most important side to this dilemma is choice – and I’m lucky to be working in a lab where graduate students are able to choose. At Pitt, our appointments are for 52 weeks a year and don’t follow the university’s academic calendar; I know of students whose PIs have demanded they not take time off this week, and there’s little to no recourse for those students. Conversely, my PI would prefer that I relax some this week, but understands why I am working and is accepting of my decision.
So it’s Christmas Day, and I’m writing this post as I wait through a series of incubations – I’m prepping cells that will be injected into mice on Tuesday as part of an experiment to determine whether activation of a certain signaling pathway is required for the function of the immunotherapy I’m studying. (Luckily, the experiment looks to be confirming our hypothesis!) As someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, this is arguably a better use of my time today than sitting home wondering what restaurants might be open or binge-watching The Man in the High Castle and/or whatever Christmas movies are on TV – that can happen any time, in any country. Not to say that the decision to work this week would be right for everyone, or even for me every year, but this year, it is – and I’m okay with that.