Summertime and the livin's... easy?

summer 2011: on our honeymoon - Guana Island

summer 2011: on our honeymoon - Guana Island

Summer! That magical time of year when people who work in the field of education get to take a nice, relaxing ~3 month vacation… ha! In reality, yes, summer is a slower pace, but in my experience there is still a significant amount of work that goes on (and it’s often unpaid). I hear others talk about how wonderful summer is, because they finally get to work on all the things (usually research) that got pushed to the side during the school year. I guess I get that to some extent, but a huge part of me really balks at that mentality. If universities are paying us for 9-months of work, shouldn’t we, theoretically, be able to get everything done in those 9-months, or at least be in a position to pause for 3 months? Summertime is yet another time where I’m puzzled by our current academic structure (I think I’m puzzled all of the time). That R&R that you’re still waiting to hear back about doesn’t just take a 3-month break, or the grant that’s due in September won’t write itself, or the unfunded research project that you’re collecting data for doesn’t disappear for the summer and resurface in the fall. But, oftentimes, the paycheck does. Unpaid and underpaid labor make the academic world go ‘round, and for me, summertime is where this shows up the most. Perhaps I’d feel differently if education was free (and student loans were non-existent), or if we had 2 incomes, or if we didn’t have a kid, or if we didn’t live in a high cost of living area… but that’s what we’re working with right now. Sure, I don’t mind doing most of the things I work on during the summer… but it also feels like a slippery slope that I don’t want to be stuck on. I’d rather have clear boundaries around what I do/do not do when it comes to unpaid work (and I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like).

What have my summers looked like so far?

  • Summer after year 1: I received $5,000 of summer salary to do research related work as a part of my start-up package. When all was said and done (i.e., taxes), this amounted to about $1,500 during July and August, and then ~$750 during June and September. To figure out how far $5,000 would get me in terms of hours worked, I took my summer salary and divided it by my pay rate at the time. This put me at ~37 hours per month… not even a full work week! Add in a few stat workshops (one was 5 days long!) and that didn’t leave much extra time to do any other work. I can’t find the exact amount of hours I put in, but it was well over my calculation of 37 hours per month (and also included course prep). During this particular summer we also moved from our apartment into a house, took a trip back to the east coast for 3 weeks to visit family (and for me to attend a workshop), I attended a week long writing retreat and also a local stat workshop, and had multiple sets of visitors… the time flew by.

  • Summer after year 2: No summer salary. I did track hours with the intent of taking days off during the school year to account for summer work. In looking at my notes, it looks like I tracked time for June and July and then gave up in August/early September! At the end of July, I’d logged about 65 hours total. I was mainly working on a few papers, a grant proposal, and course prep. I never did manage to take off any time during the school year… During this particular summer, Mike and Ellie went back to the east coast while I went to a writing retreat with some of my colleagues, we had visitors, we took a trip to Bend, OR, Ellie and I took a gymnastics class, and we all got caught up on doctors appointments.

  • Summer after year 3: The current summer! I’ll be getting some funding to revamp two online courses ($3,000). I’m planning to do the same thing I did during the first summer and take the total amount I’ll be getting and divide it by my current pay rate to give me the total number of hours to work (~63 hours total). My goal is to stay within this time frame for any course related work; however, I’ve also got a number of papers up in the air. I’ll keep track of anything over that amount and try and adjust my schedule during the next school year accordingly if necessary. This summer, we’re not moving, we’ve already done with our trip back east to see family, and we don’t have any visitor plans as of yet. We’ve got a camping trip and a 4-day trip to the Columbia River, but other than that we’re staying put. I’m hoping it’ll feel more relaxing than the past two summers.

When it comes down to it, I love the fact that my schedule is pretty much 100% flexible from mid-June through mid-September. Plus, by the time June rolls around, I’m usually in need of an extended break. However, I often feel like I’m having to choose between setting myself up for success in my job (through course prep and writing) and spending time with Mike and Ellie (and taking time for myself!). And, I’d love to have a career that I didn’t feel like I needed an extended break from… Here are some of the strategies I’m planning to use this summer to set some boundaries and also feel prepared for the fall.

  • Scheduling family and personal time on my calendar first, all job related work will fit in around it. If it doesn’t, then I don’t do it, or it gets pushed to the next week.

  • Putting up an away message (I still have one up from our trip to the east coast, I need to update this for summer).

  • Scheduling no more than 4 hours of university related work per day

  • No weekend or evening work

  • Creating a summer plan that includes what I want to accomplish in all areas of my life (I’m good about my school year plan, but summer often gets forgotten)

  • Checking in with myself frequently about when something is good enough (and not falling into the trap of perfectionism).

How do you feel about summer work?

For another academic perspective on summertime, check out Natasha from Woman Meets Academia’s post from last year: Summer: Academic limbo.