Every once in a while, my department invites students to have a lunch session with an invited speaker, who is either a member of the faculty at an external institution or a faculty candidate (this is also, as far as I know, true of other departments in the biomedical sciences program.) I happened to attend one of these this semester. I was going through a lean patch in my research (you know what that means, don’t you? Don’t you??), and my motives for attending lunch didn’t go much beyond meeting an interesting geneticist doing great work, and eating some good food guilt-free. The conversation started out with alcohol options in Ann Arbor, but eventually drifted to the Human Genome Project. The geneticist we were meeting was one of the people involved in it since its inception, and he regaled us with personal anecdotes of the initial stages of the project: the problems they ran into, the drama behind the scenes, the collaborations that were set up. I was left with goosebumps by the end of that lunch. I think I worked better that day.
When de-motivated, withdrawing into oneself, away from our academic environment is a response I’ve seen, and enacted quite often myself. Now I think there might be a better way–look for inspiration in that very environment instead. You never know where you’ll find it.
Apart from that particular lunch session, I’ve enjoyed the others I’ve attended too. The opportunity to see how profs think, and getting them to open up in a prof-free zone is always interesting. The people I have had the opportunity to interact with have spoken often about work-life balance, transitions from academia to industry (or vice-versa), what profs look for in postdocs, their activities on social media…it covers a range. These encounters have certainly been some of the more fun parts of grad school so far, and I’d highly recommend joining in if you have the chance.