Back to work? Tips for scientists returning to work after the break

Happy New Year everyone! I hope we have all had some time to reflect on our work year that was 2022, as well as to spend some time catching up with loved ones over the New Year break.  As we look to 2023, now is a good time to take steps to re-engage with work. 

But how?

We are all unique.  This is what makes us special at the workplace.  To try to understand ourselves, the way we work, the way we learn, Neil Fleming and Colleen Mills in 1992 introduced VARK, a learning model that suggests that individuals have different preferences for how they learn and process information, and that these preferences can be classified into four main categories: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.

According to the VARK model, Visual learners prefer to learn through seeing, using diagrams, charts, and other visual aids. On the other hand, Auditory learners prefer to learn through listening, using lectures and discussions. Furthermore, Reading/writing learners prefer to learn through reading and writing, using written materials and instructions. Finally, Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn through hands-on experiences and activities.

What kind of learner do you think you are? As you ponder this…. 

Here are some tips for each learning style of VARK to return to work:

Visual: A visual learner might create visual diagrams and flow charts to help them organize and plan their experiments, to see where they paused their work before the break, and to refresh their memory as they restart work. They might also use visual aids, such as graphs or pictures, to help them understand and analyze the data they have already collected before the break, and to prioritize experiments to be conducted in the weeks and months ahead.

Auditory: An auditory learner might prefer discussing their research with colleagues or seeking feedback on their work from mentors or advisors. They might also find it helpful to listen to audio recordings of lectures or presentations related to their field of study.

Reading/writing: A reading/writing learner might re-visit their research notes, review and edit their existing plan for experiments, or develop a new one inspired by their imagination over the break. They might have read relevant articles or review guidelines for conducting research in their field and are ready to head back to the lab.

Kinesthetic: A kinesthetic learner might benefit from hands-on experimentation and actively engaging with their research through tasks such as setting up equipment or performing experiments, so as to refamiliarize themselves with their work. They might also find it helpful to use physical models or other tactile aids to help them understand and analyze their data.

As with models such as VARK, there can be a tendency to oversimplify the complexity of how individuals learn and process information. Even if you prefer a certain learning style, it is likely that you incorporate the other learning styles to a certain degree as well. Nevertheless, the VARK model can be useful as a conceptual framework to consider how to restart work routines after a break.

OKAY. Now that we have thought about ways to get back to the lab, we have to think about publishing. After all, the universal output of all researchers is publications.

Has this been helpful to you? Does it get your work mind moving? Or do you need some help? Maybe you would like to speak with someone outside of your work circle, but has lived-experience as a researcher to reflect on your year that was, plan your year ahead, to talk through how to manage a difficult conversation with a colleague, staff member or student, or even your boss?  If so, Remotely Consulting is here for you.    

Style it up in 2023!

Julian Heng is Founder and Director of Remotely Consulting, an academic services company offering English-language scientific editing services, workshops, as well as coaching and counselling for the life sciences.   


Fleming, N.D. and Mills, C. (1992) Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection. To Improve the Academy, 11, 137.

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