Summertime and Academic Livin’

While technically it will not be summer until June 21st, most colleges and universities have ended their quarters and semesters by now (or are in the process of ending their quarters). Which means that we are all on summer break! As popular media would have it, that means that we are all going to lock up our offices, classrooms, and homes and then head off to the nearest cool body of water to sip beverages in the sun while reading. That would be nice, but of course is not our reality.

“The summer (Landscape with lovers)” (1807) by Caspar David Friedrich

Graduate Students are in a tricky situation. We are still students, not faculty, yet have many responsibilities beyond merely being a student. I am sure that many of you upon reaching summer break have been asked by friends or relatives about your summer plans. “Camping, beach going, adventures to exotic locales, road trips?” they might ask, a mischievous shimmer in their eye. And many of us sigh, smile wanly, and reply “work.”

But among other graduate student friends there is always a certain giddiness that comes with summer too because our time becomes our own. There are no classes to teach, no classes to take, no tests to prepare for, no seminar papers, just free time to work on articles and dissertation chapters and readings. And for some it is very easy to reorient and start in on that work. They are the lucky ones. Others, I would even be willing to guess the majority, enter the warm embrace of summer and find themselves slowing down. We are productive, but maybe not as productive as we would like to be.

What I hope to do here is offer a few suggestions that the ASU 19th Century Colloquium uses for continued productivity over the summer.

“Summer afternoon” by Charles Lewis Fussell
  1. Scheduling – Absolute freedom can itself be somewhat constraining because time can be spent in infinite numbers of ways. One could be doing research or cleaning or writing or planning a get-together. Checking Twitter or news websites does not matter because there is always more time. Time loses some of its meaning because there are no pressures, whereas during the semester you have to finish the paper before a deadline otherwise there will be consequences. So creating a summer schedule is one way of getting past this hurdle. Work from 8:00 am until 12:00 pm, and only at 12:01 pm allow yourself to be distracted by other items. Even if one does not adhere completely to the not being distracted, putting yourself in the frame of mind that you are working is still helpful. Furthermore scheduling non-work items, also known as fun, too can make those more enjoyable.
  2. Environment – Being at home can be nice, especially after the last week of classes end. But being at home all summer … well, that starts to feel like a Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story. Many in the 19th Century Colloquium attempt to change their environments as much as possible. Some have extra space where they live that can be turned into an office (where only work occurs). Others like the more active atmosphere of the coffee shop. Some even keep going to campus to work there. Whatever the case maybe, having different space for work that is away from home can be quite helpful.
  3. Meet Up with other Students – Part of the other problem with summer is that our communities disappear over night, with people leaving to go back to the home states or just isolating themselves in their homes. One of the ways that we have tried to ward off that loneliness is by having summer meetings. The colloquium picks a date and location and we all meet-up to talk about what we have been working on and what we plan on working on. Even if the group itself is not designed to try and make sure that we are working, merely meeting with colleagues to report can be incentive enough.  
  4. Writing Group – The writing group is a bit more of intense option, but still an effective one. Instead of meeting up every so often, the writing group is more of a tight-knit collective. With a small group of people, four to five, the writing group outlines a set of goals for itself, like finishing a complete article draft or chapter draft by a certain date. Then, on that date you have to submit what you have written to the other members of the group. Likewise they give you what they have written, and you all then review each other’s work. The writing group is not an especially lighthearted approach to summer, but you will get work done.

Those are the brief suggestions that we have towards summer. There are certainly more tactics for productivity though, so if you have a tactic that we missed, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, good luck everyone with the start of summer; we hope that it is both relaxing and productive!

Kent Linthicum