Everyone knows that the fulcrum around which a successful lab swings is, of course, lunch. But what is the etiquette around eating it? And what should be eaten? Dr Matthew Partridge opens his sarnies and implores us to remember…
As I write this, I have on my desk next to me, my lunch.
Today it consists of a bagel filled with some left-over BBQ chicken, a small Tupperware box with a piece of unicorn birthday cake and a bottle of water (so very exciting).
This avowed purpose of this column is to help share the inner workings of research and science. Most of the time I choose topics that, as a budding researcher, I'd want to read. But the subject of my lunch was chosen because, apparently, the list of my items I choose to eat is surprising and not at all what my undergrad students expect.
Over the last year I have had multiple students react with surprise when they have either met me walking around with my lunch box or when we've talked about lunch plans. The reason varies slightly but essentially boils down to "…but you're too senior?!"
As a supervisor, the idea that I am making sandwiches out of leftovers seems weird apparently. My status means that I should be eating a higher calibre lunch more fitting to level on the academic-ladder.
I can only guess what these fancy lunches are but talking to students and people online it seems I have three options suitable for my level. Buying fancy sandwiches (no Tesco twofers apparently, but M&S might be okay), eating out at a 'senior' researcher/staff restaurant or not having anything and simply powering through lunch.
Unfortunately for me, all the sandwich places are expensive (especially M&S), the vast majority of restaurants around here kebab shops and lastly, I'm not a workaholic and don't fancy starting working through lunch every day.
So, in order to maintain the illusion of seniority I need to either go broke, get a lot less picky about what I eat or starve in my office. I've even had students act surprised to hear that I occasionally eat my lunch with/in-front of students. Though, full-disclosure, this might not be anything to do with my status and may have more to do with my table manners.
As you go up the academic (or industry) ladder there is no requirement or need to start suddenly eating food that is fitting your station. We're all just people that like lunch and science.
I know professors that eat pot noodles. I know BSc students that eat out restaurants every day. What you have for lunch says a lot more about where you like to spend your money and a lot less about you as a researcher or supervisor
I am just as capable of research on the days when I treat myself to going out for lobster noodles in a gold flake sauce as when I eat left over spaghetti in a sandwich made with the ends of a loaf of bread.
Unless I go out for lunch to that dodgy curry van just off campus in that carpark. That might temporarily impact my ability to do research about 1-2 hours after I've eaten it.
Dr Matthew Partridge is a senior Research Fellow at the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton but describes himself as a biochemist who has accidentally ended up working with optical sensor systems.