Academic Work-Life Balance at KAUST

One of the great things about living at KAUST is that there's not much to do.

No, really. I mean it.

For me, one of the most pleasant parts of life on this tiny campus has been the lack of constant activity and busy-ness that surrounded me in Seattle. Like any small town, KAUST takes a slower, more casual approach to life.
That said, there's a danger to being an academic in a place like this. I love my work. Without the thousand constant distractions one finds elsewhere, it's easy to get completely lost in research -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And I believe that, except perhaps for short stints, and despite the fact that sometimes inspiration does strike at 2 AM, such obsession is not a good thing.
This tendency of mine isn't uncommon in academia; for a comical (un)celebration of it, see Uri Alon's Sundays at the lab. Indeed, many people seem to get the impression that you can't have a high-caliber academic research career without sacrificing your personal life, relationships, or sanity.
Though I'm still learning this dance, I can say that for me it's about balance: work hard, play hard, relax and sleep enough. How does one maintain that balance in the microcosm that is KAUST?
The work hard part comes easily enough. Outside of work, my two years here have been a journey toward doing fewer things, but better things with my time. Some of the things that have kept me on an even keel:
  • Spending time with my family. This is the best part of the reduced busy-ness of KAUST. We all have more time for each other.
  • Developing wonderful friendships. Living in a small community forces you to get to know people better. Surviving the initial chaos of living and working inside a construction site was a unique experience that forged some bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime.
  • Starting to play music again. It's great to have a creative outlet that doesn't require the same kind of mental concentration as mathematics.
  • Scuba diving, windsurfing, and yoga. You caught me -- that part about having nothing to do at KAUST wasn't exactly accurate. I grew up a thousand miles from the ocean and I'm discovering for the first time the benefits of living near the (warm!) sea.
Last but not least, I love to take quiet walks on the beach. These are a great way to reconnect with myself and what really matters.
Or to think up better numerical algorithms.
After all, a mathematician's mind is never that far from, well, mathematics.