During a recent meeting with my supervisor, we chuckled (ironically) about the different meanings the word ‘summer’ holds for undergraduates and postgraduates. At the moment, I’m invigilating at the summer exams. As we’re over halfway through the examination period, almost every session ends with a collective ‘whoop!’ from the students followed by various versions of ‘we’re free for the summer! Time to head off on my J1/go inter-railing/work four jobs to pay off my debts!’ Mainly though, they’re free from the books, free from studying, free from the library until September. These kids are on Holiday.
Ask a postgrad what the summer means and they’ll generally respond with their own ‘whoop’ about how they’re finally free of teaching hours, lesson planning, essay marking, administration, exam marking and can lock themselves in a quiet room to work on their own research or spend time in the now-deserted library or head off to visit archives. It’s not a holiday in the undergraduate sense of the word but if you’re anything like me, it’s as good as an all-expenses paid round-the-world trip…that you probably have to pay for yourself but that’s a whole other article.
The biggest problem is deciding what to do with all the blank pages in the diary. The temptation is to make a to-do list that consists of only one thing: Do everything. What I’ve learned over the last two summers is to have a plan, but more importantly to have a realistic plan. I’m not about to offer a fool-proof method to successfully negotiate the summer and come out the other end with half your thesis written but it might give you some ideas (and you might have some for me, too!).
What do I mean by a realistic plan? It’s great to make a list of everything you need to get done between now and when you submit your thesis, but how much of that are you really going to get done in the couple of weeks over the summer? Know exactly how much time you have to play around with. Be aware of how quickly you work. Everyone reads and writes at different paces so be brutally honest in terms of your word count targets and to-read lists. Avoid the disappointment of getting to September and looking at everything you didn’t get done over the summer because you aimed to do too much.
Plan days off. It is the summer after all, and as odd as it may sound, we are allowed to take breaks! If nothing else, it will help you develop a routine if you step away from the books or computer every once in a while. It will also hopefully recharge you so that when you come back to work, you’re refreshed and ready to go.
Tell someone else what you aim to achieve. This is the most important thing that I do every summer. I showed my supervisor the schedule I outlined for myself so now I have to produce work by a certain deadline. It creates a sense of accountability and will motivate you to get stuff done.
These are just some of the things I do to make the most of the summer. Have you any survival tips or cheats for making academic hay while the sun is meant to be shining?