What Break?

Some people, on hearing that I am a university professor, ask me if I’m enjoying my summer break. I always try to resist the urge to snort audibly in response. As is the case in many schools, including a large proportion of health-professions schools, my college’s faculty all have 12-month appointments, and I notice no reduction in the pace of work between May and August.

This summer semester (which just ended this week), I taught a three-credit doctoral course and co-taught two one-credit doctoral seminars, worked with a junior colleague on her career-development grant application, advised a doctoral student through the final stages of her dissertation and its defense, revised a few manuscripts for publication, reviewed grant applications for the National Institutes of Health, and worked with several staff members to develop a data base that our college needs for its educational programs and accreditation process. That activity list is not much different from those of most of my colleagues, I’d guess, certainly in terms of the number of hours it demanded.

Despite the fact that the summer isn’t really a break, I do still feel that old “school days” rhythm, the feeling that summer is a time for leisure, for vacation, or for self-paced scholarly explorations. So although I don’t have a summer break as some of my friends might imagine it, I have planned ways to get some of the benefits of summer during the two-week break between semesters. Yesterday I excavated the piles of paper that accumulated on my desk during the eight-week frenzy of classes, created a fresh to-do list (actually three: one each for research, teaching, and administrative tasks), and next weekend I’ll review some journal articles I’ve bookmarked so I can brainstorm with colleagues about new ideas. As a result of the mini-break, the fall semester feels a bit more welcome. Perhaps next weekend I’ll also engage in a cherished late-summer ritual and go shopping for fresh school supplies.

Giving ourselves time to think is not optional if we are to keep our teaching and our research fresh and productive. Yet, despite the stereotypes, the pace of most faculty appointments often doesn’t allow for much of that reflection time. How do you create breaks for yourself in the hectic pace of faculty life? How do you create a summer for yourself?

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Klearchos Kapoutsis.]

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