Anonymous comment from yesterday's post:
If the average scientist took three months off nobody would know.
First, I interpret the statement 'nobody would know' loosely - as in, it wouldn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
I suppose also that whether 3 months matters or not depends a lot on what is meant by 'the average scientist'. It's probably more useful to debate this statement within the context of the various scientist ecosystems that we inhabit.
In terms of research activities, my physical sciences ecosystem involves scientists who have one or many research grants, one or many graduate students and other advisees, and for some, big machines of various sorts (computers, analytical equipment and so on) that they supervise or visit.
If this kind of scientist took 3 months off, would anyone notice? Would our students notice?
I think our students would notice, so perhaps the more interesting question is whether they would miss us or be relieved. As a graduate student, I quite enjoyed my adviser's sabbatical, though we stayed in close communication via email during the year he was away. Years later during my own sabbatical, I think some students missed me and others did not. So, at least in my case, there's no one answer to that particular question.
Would my research program come to a grinding halt if I disappeared for 3 months? No, but it would suffer in some ways. If I stopped writing papers and conference abstracts and proposals and making sure everything was on track with my research group and doing my own research (as time permits) and attending meetings and doing editing and reviewing and such, the effect would be noticeable. This is my hypothesis anyway, and it is one hypothesis that I hope I never have to test.
I think that in many ways I am an average research university professor of the physical sciences scientist in terms of my experiences, and as such I will make the sweeping conclusion that if the average scientist took 3 months off, people would know, but the world would not stop spinning.
8 years ago