Summer’s here, and as a grad student it’s a welcome break. From August or September until May or June the day-to-day grind of graduate school is mentally and physically draining. Many of us have to balance our course load with the demands of being a TA, a research assistant, or, in some cases, full-time employment outside of the university setting, and the grind only intensifies for students who actively attend conferences in their field or develop personal research projects on their own as well as those who are married, in serious relationships, or have families and friendships to maintain. By the time spring comes around, many of us hit the “trying to get through the rest of the term” phase of the year and we anxiously yearn for the freedom of summer.
However, summer can be an incredibly important and useful time for graduate students if it is used wisely. Based on my experiences, here are three important steps towards beginning a relaxing, rejuvenating, and productive summer.
Take a break. While I think being productive over the summer is important and worthy of consideration, whatever progress you make towards those ends will be negated if you don’t give yourself time to recover from the academic year. I recommend taking the first few weeks of summer for yourself (and I found this to be particularly important when I was still taking coursework. Once you advance to candidacy or are in a phase where your schedule is less structured it might not be as crucial). Read a book that has nothing to do with your scholarly interests. Go to the beach or the mountains. Get a massage. Take in a marathon of your favorite TV show. Spend time with your family (chances are they have only seen the academic zombie version of yourself for the last few months). The point is to lose yourself in something that can give your brain a rest because you’ve been using it nearly non-stop for 9 months.
Get healthy. This goes hand in hand with taking a break. Many graduate students will crash at the end of the year as their adrenaline dissipates and the impact of long periods of exhaustion and prolonged pressure take their toll on the body. It’s happened to me, and many of my peers. In addition to resting, you might consider devoting more time to exercise. Taking care of the body is another important way of to take care of and clear your mind, and the summer offers more time for those of us who may have let our health-related habits deteriorate over the course of the academic year.
Tie up loose ends. Once you have rested, or perhaps in the midst of rest, it is a good idea to tie up any loose ends. When I was working through the coursework phase of my doctoral program, I liked to take time after every term to clear out my binders and notepads and file away course materials and readings. Keep what you might use later, but don’t keep everything. I generally kept the course syllabus, whatever readings I might have printed out for the course, and a copy of the term paper I wrote for the class (if there was one), and little else. There are only so many filing cabinets you can have before you start crossing the line into the academic hoarder territory, and the sooner you develop an efficient and selective system for what you keep and how you store it, the better. Regardless of what system you use, going through all of your “stuff” from the recently finished quarter or semester can be a valuable and effective way to clear your mind of what you might call “academic clutter,” and, if it was a particularly daunting term, it can have a therapeutic affect as well. Sometimes it is nice to throw out a copy of that term paper that
haunted your dreamstook way too long to write only a few weeks before. If nothing else, it might be somewhat satisfying to look back at the year and realize how much you actually did accomplish.
Taking some time to rest, relax, and recover from the last academic year is an important first step toward making the most of your summers. Once you’ve taken care of yourself and cleared your mind, it’s a good idea to start looking ahead, and part II of this post will address the many different things graduate students at different stages can do over the summer to maximize their graduate education. Until then, enjoy your rest. 🙂