First things first, I’m not trying to discourage PhDs from holidays. They’re vital to staying (relatively) sane, balanced, engaged with your project, and staving off burnout.
However, after a recent holiday I realised that whilst I’m allowed on holiday, my inner historian shouldn’t be.
The holiday largely consisted of cheese, wine, and marvelling at the fact that Parisian town planners, when faced with a bit of empty ground insert breasts wherever possible.
Apart from obligatory excursions to places of mass execution, and up the most well-known phallic monument in the world, we had a relaxing time wandering with no particular aim except trying as many different kinds of cheese as possible.
It was after a visit to La Grande Arche at La Défense (inspired by the cover and contents of Encore Tricolore 2 – which implied that cool people hung out there skateboarding/breakdancing and admiring the view from the viewing platform in the roof) that the trouble began.
After standing around for a bit and noticing the general emptiness, lack of skateboarding/breakdancing people (and also incredibly strong winds), we noticed a tiny sign on the entrance to the lifts. The viewing platform has been shut for some time, after a mysterious sounding “non-injurious accident” in 2010. (Supposedly civil servants can still gain access through the branch of the Ministry for Ecology and Sustainable Development offices there, but given the short duration of the trip renouncing British Citizenship and taking entrance exams wasn’t wholly possible.)
It was then that my inner historian made the whole thing really tedious. I convinced my partner that we should probably attempt to walk off some of the cheese before having more, which sounded logical, but had ulterior motives.
Some of my research looks at the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) which had its headquarters near La Défense, and after booking the tickets I looked up where that was and how to get there. At the time I thought there was no way that I would use the holiday as a cheap way of going on a find-the-right-50’s-office-block tour of northern Paris, because no one in the world except me wants to do that.
How wrong I was.
In the rain, being just “two streets away, I think” turned what was meant to be a 20 minute walk to a bar near L’Arc du Triomphe into a much longer “it must be near here because that’s the hotel which Ministry of Aviation officials stayed in when they visited” affair.
Saying those words, in Paris, in heavy rain (read: sleet), having promised your partner that a lunch in a nice warm bar would be happening 20 minutes ago on one of the few holidays they get away from their real job does not endear you to anyone.
Looking back on it, it wasn’t fun or even worth it. I have a photo of an uninspiring office block that bears little resemblance to the headquarters of the scientific organisation it used to house. Had it had been me being dragged around Paris on such a pointless excursion in that weather, I would have committed first degree murder.
Lesson learnt. I won’t be planning any more trips to places involved in my PhD as supposedly brief asides in otherwise pleasant holidays. I’m not saying – don’t go on holiday to places which your PhD covers (for me that would rule out most of Western Europe, the UK, the US and Australia), but I am saying beware your inner historian on holiday; they make things really dull.
Oh, you want to see the photo do you?
I told you it wasn’t worth it.
Posted by Stuart