For every inspirational quote, however, there are plenty of sighs and grumblings that the idealised image and reality are not quite aligned. Where did we go wrong? There are plenty of problems in any work-setting and academia is no exception. Some common complaints include: a sense of isolation with academics all working behind closed doors, the constraints imposed by funding grants, the instability for early career researchers, feeling stretched too thin with a variety of term-time duties we would love to perform given the time. Each of these can have different solutions which can, ideally, be tailored to the individual to improve their path. But if we take a step back, I think there is a wider issue: somehow we are losing the joy and creativity of our scientific research. So I want to explore something else and (in addition to addressing each of these individual complaints at their root cause) do something to bring the fun back into the workplace!
As children, we learnt so much through play, and rarely questioned whether a particular game would most precisely and efficiently accelerate our learning. We simply played, and through play, learnt. What if we bring this spirit of fun and games back into the workplace? I feel incredibly lucky to be working in an environment like IceLab. Within my first few weeks here I went to ‘IceLab camp’ which introduced me to the culture of asking questions together. My biggest take-away from the experience was the improv concept of “yes, and”; it was amazing what we could collectively achieve through taking each other’s ideas and building on them in a playful way.
Breaking boundaries through fun
Since then, I have tried to maintain this “yes, and” attitude to build on various opportunities: taking part in the ForskarFredag science stand-up, setting up an improv club with the support of the University’s Postdoc Society, and convincing enough colleagues (for two teams!) to dress up as penguins and take part in a quad-ski competition. On a smaller scale, we also, for example, watch films together, bake, or go on any number of different adventures. What next? The list of possibilities is endless if you just think what might spark joy and leave your inhibitions behind. In this way, hopefully we can break boundaries, release our creativity, and build a sense of community together. While this might seem radical in a culture that obsesses over standard metrics of success, why not keep the metrics as just that—numbers that we can check from time to time, but not goals to live by. Instead, through a culture of vulnerability and openness perhaps we can work together to make a happier, safer, and even more ‘productive’ work space. And trust that through play, the work will take care of itself.