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Friday, April 29, 2011

A Research Plan for Summer

If you are an academic, then you will be looking forward to the summer. Either your semester or quarter has just ended, or it will end fairly soon. The paradox of the summer is that it is an opportunity for more research and writing, but also a time when mental exhaustion calls for some relief in the form of a vacation. You want to make progress on your research, especially if it is difficult to do so during a normal semester, but the more harried you are teaching, the more you need a break. Here are some points to be kept in mind:

(1) You need to make the transition from structured time, built around classes and meeting, and unstructured time with its own set of problems. Unstructured summer time needs to be just as structured as time spent between classes.

(2) You need to travel or spend at least some time away from where you normally are, whether for research or vacation. The mental distance of being somewhere else is invaluable.

(3) You need to take some actual vacation time, even if it is only a week or so. Preferably some right after classes are out, and some more right before classes resume in the Fall. I like to shut off the computer during a vacation, only checking email once a day.

(4) Work on the scholarly base, not just on what you have to write. Read some novels in Italian or Portuguese if those aren't your main languages. Good ideas come from lateral connections outside one's own area of expertise. Work on the happiness base too, while you're at it.

(5) If you are graduate student or untenured, make substantial progress on your research. Write one complete article or chapter from start to finish, or a major revision of a dissertation.

(6) Whatever you decide to do, make a written plan at the beginning of the summer, including not only work but also play and non-work obligations. Having a more structured plan actually gives you more freedom and autonomy than just waking up each day and deciding what you will do.

My plans include being in a dissertation defense in July for another university (Santiago de Compostela), driving my daughter to North Carolina for a music camp, maybe working on the book version of SMT, getting my consulting business going, and writing at least one chapter of the book.

3 comments:

profacero said...

Yes, good. Of course my parents, the full professors, always called me self indulgent for having these kinds of summers. They just worked in the office and that was it. Drank some, went to the beach some, read detective novels, took family camping trip, but not a lot of self nurturing went on (at least not that I saw; what happened at the offices may have been great).

But when I cut down on self respect, respect for my own research, pleasure, and self care, my career went down the drain. I haven't had a summer this totally cool in about 20 years, and I think I really should.

profacero said...

P.S. it's the comments on getting away as a need that are so helpful. I know so many people who consider it self indulgent.

Jonathan said...

I think it's very necessary to get away if only for a week. You can get such a different perspective and welcome mental relief.

Your assignment is to have really great summer!