I’m in Glasgow at the moment, a brief stopover on the long journey back down to Leicester. I’ve spent the last two weeks in Abderdeen on my first proper ‘research trip’ to visit the partner institution I am (supposed to be) collaborating with on my our project.

Castlegate main square in Aberdeen

This trip has felt productive, and personally rewarding in the sense that I enjoy the process of actively ‘going to a place and learning about it’. Everybody loves to travel and maybe it’s a stretch to justify this indulgence as actual work – at worst I’ve spent a fortune on train fares to sit at a different desk in a different city.

virginia and marischal towers

I was sleeping in a room across the road from the research institute, with nothing else to do but wake up, work, eat, shower, sleep, repeat. I didn’t have the time to watch an episode of the latest Big Television Series every evening, or check my emails every five minutes. On the other hand it’s difficult to account for what I have actually been doing, sitting in a big empty office all day, and spending most of that time trying to figure out what to do next.

virginia street

I’ve also stalled on a lot of other creative learning efforts recently, suffering under the weight of all those unfinished little ventures. I’ve been through this kind of slump in motivation before and I can absolutely recognise what it’s like. There’s a trap where it becomes impossible to dedicate an evening to just pursue an experiment, because there’s always something more productive you could be doing. Although it might not make sense, it really is possible to burn yourself out by not doing enough work.

Anecdotally I know one PhD student who was forced to suspend their studies, and while stepping away from their project they reported being more productive than before. See the professors who take research sabbaticals, the contradiction of leaving the university in order to focus on learning.

windows

In these two weeks I’ve had to come to a series of conclusisions about what to do about this research, and then more fundamentally where everything is all headed. Big life decisions always jump on you at the most inconvenient times. At least it was a relief to temporarily exchange the endless feeling of existential dread for a series of more immediate and manageable problems.

ship moored at the end of marischal street

Otherwise there’s not much else to say about Aberdeen itself; for a city characterised as the ‘wealthiest in Scotland’ you wouldn’t see it walking around Kaimhill, or some parts of the city centre. It’s obviously a place with a lot of social problems, beyond that I don’t want to judge on superficial impressions.

boat in playground

While in Glasgow I took the opportunity to visit a few different areas, I walked south across the river from the Gorbals to Govanhill and Queen’s Park. And I visited the gentrification exhibition at the Women’s Library in Bridgeton.

I’m aware this post dived into a glum tone, but really, the journey to Scotland was worth it.