How an academic can have an epic summer

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Summer is winding down (not scientifically, but according to the university calendar, which at NCSU begins tomorrow!). This brings a combination of dread and groans from scholars who again feel they didn’t accomplish as much as they wanted to. I’d like to think of myself as a positive person (even though my last post used the word frustration no less than four times), so I’m going to buck this trend and explain why I had an epic summer, because remember all that was great about it will surely keep me in a cheerful mood past Labor Day.

How to have an epic summer

Do some work – but prioritize: Your list of things to accomplish that are academic-related might include 10 different things. Be realistic. It’s the summer; that will never get totally completed. Pick the three most important things and focus, focus, focus. When you’ve accomplished them, you’ll feel great. I narrowed my priorities to the most important professional development for a PhD student: getting published. I’m happy to say that an article I’ve written with Ashley R. Kelly will be published in the SIGDOC Proceedings from this year’s conference, and I should be able to discuss another publication soon, too. Achieving those two things made my summer feel enormously productive and successful. I also completed a research assistantship with Carolyn R. Miller, which expanded my knowledge of genre theory and gave me a well-rounded list of things to do.

Go away. As in, take a vacation that is truly a vacation, in which you “unplug” and don’t read anything remotely academic or try to keep up with Twitter. I was lucky enough to get to do this several times this summer, including trips to Canada and Aspen, and multiple long weekends at the beach. The trick is to have done some of my first point – productive, prioritized work – and then you can really enjoy getting away. I used to feel guilty about taking a day or an afternoon off, but realized that was not a healthy or good way to think about a much-needed break. Focusing and working diligently to achieve my main goals allowed me to soak up the time off, enjoy the Rocky Mountains for the first time, and come back re-energized and ready to tackle a new project/school year.

Hiking to American Lake in White River National Forest, Aspen, Colorado with my dear friend Julia

Read for fun. Yes, being an academic requires a lot of reading, so you wouldn’t think that reading when you’re not working would necessarily be a first choice, but I find it’s important to keep using your “reading muscles” outside of the school year. I say “reading muscle” after a discussion with a faculty member who suggested that, particularly for doctoral exams, that you need to train your “reading muscles” by starting out with small reading goals, and gradually building up to being able to read greater amounts of text each day/week. And if you stop using your reading muscles, they atrophy. Thus, reading during the summer is important, so that you do not start off the semester with a weak reading muscle. I find I was able to keep up by reading books that are unrelated to my research but are important topics for other parts of my life: healthy lifestyle, vegetarianism, and local food movements. Some of the books I read: Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Peas and Thank You by Sarah Matheny.

Nothing I’ve said here is necessarily ground-breaking or novel, but it’s so easy to be so wrapped up in our work that we don’t enjoy the summer as much as we could. It’s the best season of the year, after all, and while it still requires work – which many non-academics don’t understand – the potential for flexibility in our schedule is there, and we shouldn’t forget to use that. Enjoy life!!

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