‘You get the summer off, right? Go on loads of holidays, yeah?’
I imagine you’ve been asked this once or twice, and you’ve rolled your eyes so hard you pulled a muscle. You might have tried in vain to explain to your family or your hairdresser (‘Well, there are all these forms and then I have to get published because of this thing and I have to supervise’) and watched as either their eyes began to glass over or they shoot you a killer ‘O RLY?’ expression.
You have most likely spent the summer as I have, torn between admin and research, neither completely relaxed or completely functioning at the highest level. The nature of academic work means that nothing’s ever really finished, we can never be satisfied even when we hit send, so we often find it hard to switch off. The summer is often when we get our best research done: all those ideas cut short due to teaching, Open Days, meetings etc can finally roam about like free range hens. This means that we’re often reluctant to take time to recharge when there are deadlines whizzing by (if any of my editors are reading this, those corrections are on their way #awkward).
This is even more compounded in the early stages of an academic career, where you feel like every single day you ‘slack off’ is the day your competition for that permanent job is writing the article or grant proposal that means they will snag life security. You’re also usually broke from short-term contracts, moving costs, graduate debt and interview travel so even a week in a caravan seems a little out of your reach. I didn’t have a holiday that wasn’t tied on to a conference for years but that’s hardly relaxing when you’ve still got that keynote swimming round in your bonce.
BUT… despite the fact that I know there is every reason in the world not to relax properly, I am here to urge you to do what you can when you can. If you’re burnt out and frazzled, you’re not producing your best work and you’re setting yourself up for health problems down the line.
We all know what term-time is like. I think I’m good at managing my time but I always end up reading that week’s novel, or marking, or doing lecture plans on a Sunday afternoon. But, when there are no pressing teaching commitments, do try to have proper real weekends all summer. Eat a Cornetto (Magnum if you’re flash), go for a walk, read a trashy novel. Take what annual leave is owed to you, if you have it, because people fought for you to have days off.
Get out of your head in whatever ways you can (I’m aware I’m speaking from a positive of able-bodied privilege here) and work out what a genuine, actual break would mean for you. For me, it means a few shorter chunks of time off to see friends and family, and some budget-y trips away. It means occasionally using a day of annual leave to take friends on tours of the city I’ve come to love. You know when you switch off and you know what suits you (and your budget). Whether it’s a whole series of Orphan Black on Netflix, or using a free meditation app to get away from the pressure, every act is an important one to ensure that you’re fighting fit to go to the new round.
Don’t judge your own behaviour by people around you: they can run themselves into the ground but that culture’s not cute or sustainable. If you’re in this for the long haul, summer is the time to practice the skills that’ll keep you in academia til you are the most badass Emeritus in history.