Trail-Lab Parallels

photo credit: Alexandre Genovese
photo credit: Alexandre Genovese


When I’m not working I spend a lot of my time in the mountains, hiking or skiing depending on the season. When I’m on the trail I try to regularly check in with my body. Am I hungry? Hydrated enough? How are my energy levels? Does anything hurt? That might sound dumb. Surely human’s are well programmed to notice these things? But actually when we get absorbed in something, the views, the approaching summit, keeping your footing, it’s easy to tune out these little things and only notice when it gets really bad. In the case of say a shoe rubbing the beginnings of a blister, or getting dehydrated on the trail it’s a whole lot easier to fix the problems the earlier you notice them.

The same is true in the lab. Lab work can be physically demanding – being on your feet the majority of the day, bending into awkward positions and holding them to reach inaccessible parts of the instrument, moving heavy equipment. It’s necessary to stay in good physical condition to be able to tackle this. Often I’ve found myself so caught up in data I’m recording, or part of the instrument I’m fixing that I only notice after a couple of hours have gone by that my blood sugar is low and my back is killing me from the awkward position I’ve been in. This not only feels nasty, but it can affect the quality of my work too – if I’m dehydrated and getting tired say, I’m less alert to little changes that might tell me something important about the phenomenon I’m studying or the performance of an instrument. Realizing I’m really low on blood sugar late in the afternoon often means an emergency vending-machine chocolate bar and a cup of bad coffee to fix the problem, which doesn’t do my body any favors in the long run.

So I’ve started checking in with my body every hour or so in lab, same as on the trail. Am I drinking enough water? Do I feel hungry? Any aches or pains? I’m keeping snacks like trail mix and fruit in my office for healthy re-fueling. It may sounds like a little thing, but  it’s a minor adjustment that could make a real difference to both my productivity and general well-being.


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