It’s August 1stand the summer is basically over. As summers tend to, it flew by. That being said, I was able to make the most of it and I believe I’m in a good position to start the school year. I really struggled to know how to use my time the last few months and thought you might benefit from a few amateur dos and don’ts.
Before launching into my ideas, let me establish some ground rules:
- I don’t mean to sound like your committee chair, but it should go without saying that if you got a tenure track job as an ABD candidate and you have not yet finished your dissertation, THAT’S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO OVER THE SUMMER.
- Another important consideration is rest. Only you can decide what that looks like for you. For me it was fleeing the country for a few weeks and finding a place where I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself.
- There are also financial considerations. My PhD-granting institution funded my summer even though I was no longer enrolled or planning to enroll ever again. That’s not a reality for everyone, so some of you might need to teach or seek some kind of employment over the summer.
If you’re in a position where you can afford (both literally and metaphorically) to do something else between school years, I would highly-recommend what my partner recently referred to as academic cross-training. In other words, you no longer need to prep for the job market, and you have time to take a break from your primary scholarly goals and find complementary ones. I advocate for this plan for two primary reasons: 1. it got me excited about my work again because it stimulated my curiosity, and 2. it has allowed me to look back over my summer and feel a sense of pride that I did something (at least semi-) productive with it.
A partial list of academic cross-training ideas:
- Move and nest.In all likelihood, you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time in this new place. Do whatever you need to do in order to feel at home in your environment. For my partner that would likely have just meant inflating an air-mattress and unzipping a suitcase, but I need a little bit more than that. I didn’t buy a house (because eeps! I’m terrified of commitment…but if you’re not, go on with your bad self). I did take the time to organize my books on shelves and buy bedding that makes me happy.
- Visit a site related to your academic work.This might be an archive, a museum, a lab, a faraway place, or even a digital space. Being surrounded by something related to your work without having to actively engage it provides the space to soak it all in and appreciate it from a slightly larger than usual distance.
- All of us have an incredibly long list of things we’d like to get to one day that inevitably gets procrastinated for later because we need to write. Whether you love reading in your spare time or not, pull out that list and find the fun things on there that border on reading for pleasure. If you absolutely have to, you can take a few short notes about what you might do if/when you come back to it, but try to refrain.
- Go back and finish a half-finished project.That might mean pulling that oil painting you started 3 years ago back out from the depths of your closet. Or maybe it means repainting the picket fence you started putting up last summer. Maybe you submitted an article for publication and got the dreaded “revise and resubmit” and just didn’t have the patience to address reviewer #2’s half-baked comments until now.
- Draft an upper-level syllabus.You may or may not be teaching any upper-level classes in your first year. (Another post about making sense of and peace with teaching assignments will come at a later date.) Regardless of whether or not you teach at the upper level the first semester, getting an idea of how you might do it at a future date could be a very useful exercise. I gave this a shot with the hopes that when it comes time to finalize and officially propose my new syllabi, I’ll thank myself for starting while I had the energy to do so.
- Consider reviewing a book.(A whole post on this now available!) It’s not the most impressive line on your CV but it’s a line that you can grab while approaching your work from a relaxed mindset.
In some ways, I didn’t take my own advice. I also did three things that are slightly less-than-advisable or should be considered with skepticism. My last year in my PhD program I was on fellowship and living away from campus. I also defended my dissertation somewhat early in spring of 2018 and was given relatively few revisions to make before depositing. (The revisions amounted to about 10 days’ worth of work, putting in about an hour to an hour and a half each day.) So, you could say that the summer before starting my TT position, I was uniquely rested…the stress of looking for a job aside. These three things are a product of my exact circumstances, so please bear that in mind:
- Take a stab at a book proposal.(Again, longer post containing specifics to come at a later date.) Are you going to send this to an editor at a scholarly press? No. Is it a binding contract with yourself that needs to articulate exactly where your research is going? Not even close. Instead, I approached this as an opportunity to step back from my dissertation and weigh its merits and well…demerits? Unlike during the writing phase of my dissertation, I feel much less attached to keeping what I’ve already written. So, for me, this was a creative exercise in imagining where else it could go.
- Decide if you want to apply to any grants in the near future. As mentioned in my first post, I have a 3-3 teaching load and no opportunities to find course releases for research. This means I’ll likely HAVE to find grants at some point. I started asking myself… why not sooner rather than later? One of the pros to this approach is that it represents relatively little work for your committee/letter-writers compared to at a future stage in your trajectory. They presumably JUST wrote you a recommendation letter and won’t have to change much for it to be up to date. The flip-side, of course, is that you’re probably sick of rejection. I decided to apply to two in my first year. My criteria for my choice where 1. likelihood of getting the grant, or “fit” as it were, and 2. ease of completing the application requirements.
- Create a roadmap for your first year. I spent the summer researching my institution and deciding what sorts of service opportunities might be of value to me/to the institution. I made a list of upcoming conferences and their deadlines. I set preliminary writing goals for year one. Again, I’m hoping that once I’m in the throes of my first year on campus, I’ll thank myself for the Google calendar reminder reading, “Conference Abstract due next week.” Otherwise, I’d probably forget.
The important thing is to show up to your new department energized and excited. So, find the balance that serves you…how do you rest while making sure you won’t regret your choices later? Comment below with ideas that I missed!