An excellent tradition in the US academic world is the sabbatical: roughly every 6 years, you take a year off (with some pay). People typically travel around the world, spend some time at other universities, interact with industry etc. I think this is a great idea for maintaining your creativity and breadth, and it's a shame that companies which require serious thinking don't have a similar benefit.
In my own case, I have started doing research about 5 and a half years ago. And, the eager person that I am, I decided to take a sabbatical a bit early. Of course, since I'm still on MIT's payroll as a student, this is a bit unofficial :) But the basic idea is the same.
This is mostly plan-as-you-go, but here's the rough idea:
- first week of December: London.
- 6 weeks in a rural location in East Kenya, with a small detour to do white-water rafting in Uganda (at the source of the Nile)
- 1+ weeks climbing Kilimanjaro and taking a safari (Tanzania).
- 3 weeks in Romania (yes, I will gladly give talks!)
- 1 week in Dagstuhl (session on data structures)
My main goals on this trip are to (1) relax and enjoy the life experience, (2) think about some really long-shot problems, (3) think about some diverse fields of research that I have not considered before. I feel a great danger for researchers is to get stuck improving a field that they have revolutionized earlier. One needs to spend time targeted at starting new revolutions, not on your old business-as-usual research.
So, going with the plan, I have spent the past week in London, minding the gap and trying not to get killed by all those maniacs driving on the wrong side of the road. (This skill proves useful, since they are also at it in Kenya.) London is a nice city, but I feel it has lost some of the European charm that I find in many cities on the continent. Or maybe I'm desensitized by prolonged exposure to American culture, a close descendant of the British culture.
The most durable thing about visiting London is the hole in your wallet. Roughly speaking, all prices look like the right number, except that they have this funny pound sign instead of "$". With an exchange rate of $2.2 for a pound, it feels like your pay-check comes from a third-world country. Unfortunately, dark days seem to lie ahead for all of us relying on this collapsing economy...
Today, I am in Nairobi catching up with things, and tomorrow I will be enjoying a 9-hour bus ride to the other end of Kenya. I will try to post once in a while depending on Internet connectivity (they say there's a post office with an Internet connection, at a convenient 10-mile run). But of course, if I happen to solve P vs NP I will make an effort to post about it.