THE DOCTORAL EXPERIENCE: MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR SUMMER

It’s Scotland, so one might not know we’re approaching the summer months unless they look at a calendar, but indeed: we are! Terms are ending, and that means a suspension of sorts in our normal routines. It’s doubtful that any doctoral researcher truly takes a summer off, but in having a slight reprieve, here are a few points to consider in setting your schedule from June through to September.

Take Some Downtime

Source: https://az616578.vo.msecnd.net/files/2016/03/05/635927369789966125-1555831825_hammock%20sloth.jpg

While the rise of corporatized schedules and time management increasingly dominate Western culture, it’s not a weakness, or a sign that you haven’t outgrown primary school, if you are just a little bit giddy at the prospect of the end of spring term and the beginning of a few precious months without scheduled programme commitments (those imposed by necessity, that is; there are plenty of conferences and trainings and language courses to be had).

Point being: no one truly outgrows the need for a breather, and just because adult life makes the summer holidays less of a guarantee, that doesn’t mean they’re not to be used for their original purpose: a break.

This is not to say that it’s necessarily advisable to spend the whole summer doing the absolute minimum work related to your thesis, but be intentional about allowing yourself to have a week away from the books, and another away from your thesis .doc, and perhaps even a third away from home, on a proper holiday if it’s feasible. The ability to step back and allow not just the temporary change of mind-set/scenery serve as contrast to your term-time schedule as a breath of fresh air, but also to invite near experiences and perspectives to bring back to your thesis, is a boon too valuable to pass up. Don’t forget to take advantage of the months allocated for just that opportunity.

Highlight Experience

You know all of those pie-in-the-sky ideas you had for research related (however tangentially) endeavours that fell to the wayside during term because they would have required you to miss X appointment, or Y seminar? Now is the time to see if they’re actually doable. Want to study abroad, but not sacrifice term-time at your home institution? See what’s available for summer. Want to go on a research pilgrimage across one continent or another? Three months is more than enough time to fit that in.

Credit: BBC's Doctor Who; Source: http://giphy.com/gifs/doctor-who-david-tennant-2GI3yBQc0zu2A

Play to the Extremes

The summer speaks to a fairly substantial, mostly concrete block of time that you get to assign for yourself. If we’re going to take a common “summer goal”—one thesis chapter, fully drafted—allow me to make the suggestions of playing to either the chapter you’re most excited about writing, or the one that you’re absolutely dreading trying to put an intro sentence to. Which of these you choose largely depends on personality, as well as point in the doctoral process (the farther along you are, the less flexibility you may have), but having a wide-but-finite span of time to either relish your favourite bit and flesh it out as far as it can possibly be explicated, or on the other hand, taking the least lively piece and breaking it down into manageable bites and maybe—just maybe—finding a silver lining in cutting a monster down to its component parts can oftentimes yield not only viable results, but a more rewarding experience at either pole.

Make Your Own Schedule (And Keep Space in the Diary for Human Interaction)

As doctoral researchers, we have a lot of say over our schedules in terms of the when, but less with regard to the what. However, during the summer, the few required elements of our programmes suddenly disappear: our seminar structure, our benchmarks, the things that remind us which day of the week it is and our guarantee of human interaction beyond flatmates/neighbours/families/delivery personnel from AmazonUK is suspended until autumn.

Credit: Sony Pictures' 'Hotel Transylvania'; Source: https://media.giphy.com/media/ALJmsZ4xCkeUo/giphy.gif

So: you know how to make your own research schedule already, but don’t forget to get out of your flat every so often. Take a walk. Scritch your neighbour’s cat behind the ears while he weaves between your ankles. Ride the bus out to the nearest body of water and wander the coast. Grab a coffee, a pint, lunch, dinner, tea—what have you—with a friend or colleague, or even just with yourself and a book (I won’t tell you it absolutely cannot be related to your research, but that might be a nice idea!). Keeping a schedule of some sort is essential, not just to productivity but to making sure term time doesn’t overwhelm you out of nowhere. But said schedule shouldn’t focus so much on the well-being of your thesis that it neglects your well-being in the process.

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