Summer, for me, conjures thoughts of carefree abandonment, light evenings, Pimms, walking for hours, a cacophony of rainbow colours as the garden comes into full bloom, and the rush of hazy days and hazier nights spent wantonly in the city. When I think of summer I think of the glorious description in Wuthering Heights of Catherine Linton’s idea of heaven where she wishes to ‘sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee’. The fact that Linton decries her fantasy as ‘drunk’, only makes me feel a greater affinity.
Sadly when it comes to academic engagement during the summer months I find it difficult to ascribe such positive imagery to the actuality of my experience. Summer in academia starts around about May – earlier really if you’re not marking, I think – and ends at some point in September. Broadly speaking I think things tend to tail off around Easter when formal classes end and revision/exam time begins. We’re faced with what many people would perceive as a luxury in the world of work, but seems to be universally recognized by academic friends as rather a bind: months of uninterrupted and unstructured time and space in which you can do (virtually) as you please. No classes to teach/take, no marking, few meetings and the undergrads have all disappeared. On the face of it it’s tempting to think of this scenario as some sort of blissed-out dream - it seems as if it’s something your average academic would cherish, given the hours of writing and researching freedom it offers but the vast swathes of time can be debilitating. Confronted with oodles of hours that are all yours to fill, you can start to feel swamped, lethargic, overwhelmed, unmotivated, and listless.
Inspired by some conversations on Twitter and particularly Anna Mackenzie’s very good blog on this very topic I think her answer of imposing structure via the idea of summer goals is potentially a great way of overcoming the sluggishness of the academic summer. What I’ve decided to do is to have a set of targets that I think can be reasonably achieved by the end of the summer along with an overall aim, to bring coherence to the venture. Alongside this I’m going to give myself weekly goals to further break down and order the tasks. Some will be deadline specific – for instance I have a real bundle of things due in at the end of July and, of course, the jobs I’m applying for having closing dates. Some of my weekly goals will involve doing something I find pleasurable about academia – new reading for example – it’s really important to do things that are not only functional but are enjoyable too. I think by publicizing the goals and sharing progress here and on Twitter I’ll be more likely to stick to them; the external gaze acting as police.
My overarching theme is making myself ready for beginning my MRes in September. My specific academic summer goals are as follows:
- Abstracts: one for Queer Sexualities at London South Bank, one for the British Sociological Association annual conference
- Conference paper(s): ‘Sensualising the Riots: a dirty theory critique’ for Clashes, Coalitions and Riotous Subjects in September
- BSA PG Forum: planning for a National Sociology Day; THE article on academic job market and its effect on early career researchers/postgraduates
- Funding applications: 2 small grant funding apps, plus the Carnegie-Cameron bursary (for which I need to research my Scottish connections, ahem); Gladstone Library scholarship
- Planning/writing: create roadmap for PhD: topic, remit, goals, methods, limits
- Reading: course texts on social theory and sociology research methods (oh my lord, quants!)
Additionally I also need to get a part time job and a flat in Glasgow. A mere incidental issue…
I’ve drawn up a pretty chart of my summer goals and I shall be pinning it up for inspiration and ticking things off as I go along. Hopefully seeing everything holistically as well as broken down and crossed off will spur me on to get everything done.
If you want to join in, add your own summer goals and share progress, then the Twitter hashtag is #summergoals and you can follow me at @msfloraposte. The more people who join in the better!