from the archives · research planning · summer

From the Archives: Summertime, and the Research Is…

The tents are going up on the lawn at the University of Toronto, which means that exams and grading are done and convocation season is nearly upon us. It also means that it is the season for making overly ambitious summer research plans and many, many lists. But, as Erin reminds us, there’s another way! From the archives, Erin on combating summertime burnout and anxiety.

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It is mid-June. My lickety-split spring course–contemporary critical theory in 3.5 weeks–has finished. I’ve submitted my grading and filed all my papers and lectures in hard and digital copy. Congress has also passed. I learned that Fredericton is lovely. I made some new friends and colleagues. I was completely inspired by a panel on lyric scholarship. I had the wonderful good fortune of having generative responses to my own presentation (thanks SB, LM, and MG!) and my dear friend and collaborator TVM and I had the good fortune of chairing a phenomenally strong and interesting panel of papers given on a topic we curated! Bliss.


Now that things have slowed down a wee bit (read: I am unemployed until August 1st when my new contract begins) I’ve been thinking about how best to spend my summer. Last summer I flailed. I spend a huge amount of time fretting about being unemployed, an equally huge amount of time trying to generate an immense amount of research, and ultimately I spent a good deal of the summer feeling paralyzed in front of my computer. I managed to write a bit, but readers it was not a pretty or productive scene. What’s worse, I hardly rested. I felt far too guilty when I was relaxing to ever properly relax.

I’m 365 days older and while I might not be that much wiser I have gathered some strategies that I’d like to share with any of you readers who like me have hugely ambitious summer research plans that don’t also include lazing on the beach/biking riding/drinking wine at a cafe or whatever enables you to let the tightness out of your shoulders.

One of the things I’ve done this year is join an online writing group. This is a direct result ofAimée: she’s written about Academic Ladder, and finally in a mid-May grading fit of despair I joined. Academic Ladder costs money, and for me that’s part of what works. I’ve paid to join a writing group where really what I get is kind peer pressure, encouragement, empathy, and suggestions for writing block, organizing my time etc. So far, so good. I’ve written an article, a conference paper, and a draft of another article all while teaching M-R for three hours a day.

You might find this is a little hokey (actually I kind of do too, but I marvel at how it has worked for me). If you’re not into paying for peer pressure (hmm…) then why not write a list of all the research and writing related things you want to/have to accomplish over the summer. Everything: course prep, book orders, book proposals, manuscript, research trips, all of it. Then consider sharing your list. I shared mine with my pal TVM on Google Docs and he sent me his list. We’ve offered each other strategies for prioritizing and we’re checking in with one another regularly. I’m also a big fan of crossing out rather than deleting a task when it is finished as I feel like I can see my progress.

In addition to making lists and prioritizing my tasks I’m trying to set some fairly firm limitations on how much I work. I must work over the summer, as I suspect many of you must, but I’ve finally clued in to the fact that it is imperative that I relax as well. To that end I’ve decided that work stops at 3pm. I practice yoga in the morning and then come home, clean up, and walk Felix the Dog, so that puts me at my desk around 9:30-10:00. Setting an end-time is proving to be the most challenging for me. I don’t have the family obligations that many of you do, and my partner works out of town during the week, so I have to push myself to unplug as step away from the desk. But let me tell you, once I’ve shut off my computer and called it a day I feel pretty darn good. Ending at a reasonable time gives me the tangible sense that I’ve worked, but allows me the freedom to have a huge chunk of the day to myself. I’ve been reading books for pleasure…!

There’s no silver bullet for balancing life/research life in research, but writing down my goals, sharing them, tracking my progress daily, and quitting early regularly is really working for me. How about you? What are your strategies for balancing work/life/summer?

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