Where have I been all this time?

It’s been almost two months since I last wrote an article for this blog. In the 10 years since I began writing here, that is the longest gap ever.

What’s up?

Broadly speaking, I have been very busy and very unhappy at work.

My unhappiness at work is nothing new. Regular readers may remember my article on ‘Coping by Counting‘ back in February 2017 where I extolled the virtue of counting down the time to retirement month-by-month.

Colleagues will know that I have been able to immediately tell them how many months, weeks  and days (and occasionally hours!) until my planned retirement date.

This technique really helped me through the last 20 months, but recently it became apparent that I would not last another 86 months and two weeks.

The only possibility seemed to be to resign, and a couple of weeks ago that is what I decided to do. But after talking with friends, family and colleagues, I was ‘talked down’ from this precipitous step and urged to look for alternatives.

So I have been negotiating to work part-time, and happily this seems to be achievable. This is due in no small part to my exceptionally kind line manager. So from January 2019 I will begin working three days a week. Hopefully this will be sustainable.

Perspective & Reflections

At the moment, this step feels like a humiliating defeat. Being unable to cope in a 21st Century working environment feels like a very personal failure. But I hope these feelings will fade.

Firstly, when I have told colleagues of my decision, they have reacted with a mixture of empathy and envy. They too are feeling the strain. So I have sense that it is not ‘just me’.

Secondly, looking at my career more broadly, in my 18 years at NPL I have managed to achieve a thing or two.

  • I was part of the team that made the second most accurate measurement of the Boltzmann constant ever.
  • I was part of the team that made the most accurate temperature measurements ever.
  • I have affected the lives of many people with my outreach work.
  • In 2009 I met the Queen and she gave me a medal!

And importantly I have managed to earn money, stay married, and bring up two children.

So from this wider perspective, reducing the amount of work I do and focusing more on writing and general pottering seems reasonable and not really a sign of defeat and failure.


Over the next few months I will hand over (or drop) the responsibilities that  fitted into the previously normal 6/7 working days, and find a package of work projects that I can achieve in 3.00 working days.

  • Did you notice the decimal point?

This will require a change in perspective on my part. I will need to let  go of some projects which I have been holding onto in the hope that I would be able to find some time to move them forwards. This won’t be easy.

But on the other hand, the prospect of several days a week on which I have no agenda items whatsoever already feels exhilarating.





13 Responses to “Where have I been all this time?”

  1. Victor Venema Says:

    On the positive side for science: we still have half.

    When 5 days a week somehow morphs into 6 or 7, it will be hard to defend the 3.00 day line. My father just worked his hours and never thought of work at home. That is more healthy, I wish I knew how to get back to those days.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Yes. I will have to think of a way to do it. I think the only possibility is to leave my laptop at work and not check e-mail on my phone. I might allow myself to read things. But it is different phase for sure,

  2. Jennifer Lynch Says:

    Having attended one of your talks at the Royal Society of Chemistry, I can strongly endorse how your work and time spent in public discourse has reached the lives of others – myself and my students. I used the information you graciously provided me to impart that same information to subsequent students. I have myself in theory, just over 120 months until retirement. However, I made a choice to step away from teaching and seek a lifestyle that induced fa less stress in my life. I am very lucky that I have been able to make this choice and I now work part-time in retail and tutor (on the side). I cannot say my life is more fulfilling but it is without a doubt less stressful and for that I am grateful. I am also branching out into other areas I never before had the time for either actual or psychological. I still struggle with guilt and a sometimes overwhelming sense of failure but this is the only shot I have at this, I cannot really fail myself if I am doing my best to take care of myself.
    I wish you all the best in your exciting new part-time adventure!

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      Thank you very much for your kind kind words.

      Yes, I have also reflected that we only have one life and that maybe there are other things I might yet do.

      I feel very strongly that the current path is bad for me and so making a change feels obvious. The problem is choosing what to do next. This feels like a first step – but probably not the last.

      Thank you for your good wishes – I too wish you all the with you adventure!


  3. Sue Williams Says:

    Going part time is an excellent and wise decision – not at all to be considered a humiliation. Like you, I had a count down system for many years and then went part time and it worked out splendidly. After 2 years, I granted myself early retirement (the gap years I didn’t qualify for as a teenager) and retirement is even better.
    I hope you will be very happy

  4. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Thanks Sue. I will take encouragement from your experience.

    All the best


  5. Sigal Bitzur Says:

    I don’t usually reply on blog posts, but this one touched a chord.

    I want to congratulate you on your brave decision!

    It is not a defeat at all!

    Taking a step out of a situation that is not serving you requires courage and power.

    We are brought up to stand in line and perform as expected, and finding the power to step out of line and say – hey, this is not for me anymore – is not easy.

    Good luck in your new life.

    Make the most of it, and enjoy!


  6. protonsforbreakfast Says:


    Thank you for responding to your ‘touched chord’. I am very moved and happy to receive your best wishes.


  7. Ross Mason Says:

    Can i come and have a beer when we finally make the trip in the not too distant future?
    Signed: Fellow Near Retiree.

  8. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Dear fellow near retiree – congratulations for making it this far. And yes, when you make it over the beers will be on me. But make sure you don’t come over in May 2019 because I may be visiting MSL then.

  9. rosssmason Says:

    Or retire before May!!

  10. H Stiles (@HStiles1) Says:

    About the same age & I think unable to be able to cut down sadly unless I am cut – which looks possible… Good luck to you!

  11. Ronald Eldridge Says:

    There is wisdom in knowing when to quit (or significantly reduce ones hours) I did that after 42 years in the NHS……my life was much enriched mentally there after. Very best wishes in your new found freedom.

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