Here's a tune that's already been overplayed this summer; "Well, classes are over, so I'm sure you have plenty of time on your hands."
Other variants include "What are you up to now that classes are over?", "Got any major summer plans?" or even the dreaded, "Your schedule must be so open and free now that the semester is done!"
It's a fairy tale that we tell ourselves as well; one wrought in the stardust of childhood fancy recalled in a luminescent rose-hued haze while dandelion fluff floats over the memory. Summer means vacation. Summer means freedom. Summer means long lazy days of sitting outside with a nice cooling beverage, barefoot, while reading a book simply for the pleasure of turning pages.
Nobody likes to admit that they've had their last summer vacation and, especially for those of us who took a good hard look at the real world then went scuttling back to the bosom of academia, summer is the pristine, shining light at the end of a dark, dank, twisted, stressful tunnel.
And this first year of my PhD was no exception. "Summer", I thought, would mean time to augment my reading. It would mean time to rest. It would mean time to catch up with myself, my friends, my life, my housecleaning. It would mean relaxing, rejuvenating, and unwinding from this stressful thing that I've been fighting through with everything I've got for the past nine months.
And when I was done rejuvenating, I could brush the dust off of some of those projects I've been sitting on from my Master's that never went anywhere but I think are publishable material. I could even get a jump on my comps reading. Heck, summer would be a great and wonderful time, a veritable promise land where the books flowed freely and the caffeine was only there for when I desired it, not when I was using it to replace some of life's other necessities (sleep, food, friends...).
Well, I was wrong. And, to a certain extent, I feel like I've been lied to.
My summer has been no less busy that my normal life. Oh, sure, I don't have specific paper deadlines to contend with; instead I have amorphous summer-long (and, really, life-long) projects to battle. To fulfill one of my language requirements, I'm taking a German for reading class. No problem, thought I as the semester was underway. Two classes a week for two hours apiece was nothing compared to three classes a week for three hours apiece. I bet there wouldn't even be (literally) thousands of pages of reading for this class! Well, yes, my weekly in-class hours are technically shorter, but covering this material requires a great deal of time and dedication outside of class in order for it to mean anything. In addition, I'm working on an acting edition of Measure for Measure for a production which I'm dramaturging over the winter. No problem, I know Shakespeare, I could do this with one eye closed. Au contraire. Again, the amount of time and dedication required to truly fulfill this project is vastly larger than I had estimated.
Where is the strawberry lemonade? Where are the unending plates of grillable meat products? Where are the flowering fields through which to frolic?
Not here, let me assure you. I haven't cracked my comps books yet. And my ukulele is sitting the corner sadly under-practiced. And no, I haven't had a chance to even sneak a glance at Fifty Shades of Grey despite my mother's urgings.
Most importantly, though, I've been forced to come to an extension of the conclusion that I've been touting all year: academia really is a full-time job. It's not full-time-most-of-the-time. It's not full-time-when-I'm-not-on-vacation. It's not even full-time-when-I-want-it-to-be. It is, simply, always going to be part of your day. To succeed as an academic, you had better always have projects on your desk. And if you don't, it's time to sign up for some more.
The good news here is that, because I am still hammering at projects despite the fact that I've already installed my air conditioner (we had a run of eighty-degree days here in Boston last week), it means I'm on the right track. This determination, this compulsion, this inability to be satisfied with the work that I have done and drive to continue with the work that I will do, is what is going to make me successful in my chosen career and a sure-fire sign that I've chosen correctly.
And I couldn't be more grateful.
...despite the fact that I have to repeatedly explain all of this at mimosa brunches with my lady-friends, beer and wings night with my boys, dinner-and-a-show with my nearest and dearest, every summer barbecue, large awkward parties with people who don't even know what my field is, and assorted/sundry family gatherings.
Danielle Rosvally is a PhD student in Drama at Tufts University specializing in Shakespeare in performance. She holds an MA from Rutgers University and a BA from New York University. In addition, she has trained as an actor at such institutions as The American Globe Theatre, The Actor's Institute, Shakespeare & Company, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She publishes anecdotes about her academic adventures via her blog; http://www.daniprose.com.