While spending time away from the lab and data- and paper-generating activities can be seen as a sign of loss of focus, Lauren Emily Wright, a postdoc at the University of Padua, argues at Nature Jobs that it can also give researchers perspective.
When her postdoc ends this year, she's planning on a short stint with the nonprofit TReND — short for Teaching and Research in Natural Sciences for Development — in Ethiopia, where she'll work at a university as part of the group's goal to support higher education and scientific education in Africa.
"Working in relatively underprivileged locations gives young researchers a chance to get in the deep end and experience the wider world of science," Wright says.
"Lecturing and collaborating with scientists whose native language is not English is also a fantastic way to improve communication skills, and working with less well-funded labs and universities could hone your creativity for problem-solving," she adds. "What do you do when there's no tape? No shaking waterbath? You can't complain, and you definitely can't just order it from Sigma. You have to figure it out with the tools at hand."
Similarly, the University of Southern Illinois' Andrzej Bartke tells her that his time spent collecting samples and taking measurements in Vietnam in the 1960s not only exposed him to a different country, it also taught how to be independent and deal with logistical issues with ingenuity. The experience, he adds, also led to him being offered another opportunity in the US the next year.
"If you have a chance to do something you find really exciting, you should grab that chance even if it appears to have nothing to do with the conventional career path," Bartke adds.