Friday, 5 July 2013

What DO you do between May and October?

'What do you do with those long holidays?' is a question asked by friends, family and even our students, every year. If I had £1 for every time this or similar comments were sent my way, I'd go off on a long holiday for real.

But I don't. Because what we really do is:

  • Write as many of next year's lectures as we can (no, we don't make them up on the spot. Not always. The moving bits on Powerpoint and Keynote are quite tricky). 
  • Re-read the primary texts. Shamefully realise you didn't get it first time round. 
  • Look for new and exciting texts. Contemplate whether students are more or less likely to read them.
  • Read critical work in the field to keep up. Or to sharpen one's sense of worthlessness. 
  • Do some research and/or academic writing. This mostly involves procrastination, frustration, shame and self-loathing. But then, 'being asleep' is the only thing I do which doesn't involve procrastination, frustration, shame and self-loathing. 
  • Go to conferences to test ideas (ours and other academics'). Try to beat your current record of not speaking to anyone at a conference for three entire days. 
  • Keep meeting MA and PhD students who don't get holidays. 
  • Tidy my desk (this takes quite a long time, and comes under the heading 'Self-managed Research and Scholarly Activity). This involves taking several short courses on Stress Management and Handling Bulky Objects. Plus some rudimentary working knowledge of fungal cultures.  
  • Pointlessly drooling over the Moulton website and wondering how many colleagues I'd have to push down the stairs before I got promoted high enough to spend that much on a bike without noticing (currently: I'd have to be a Deputy VC at a minimum)
  • Fill in forms detailing Self-Managed Research and Scholarly Activity.
  • Try to work out how colleagues' Workload Allocation numbers came out at X and mine came out at Y. 
  • Meet the Business Development Unit and KTP staff to sit there dumbfounded while they ask you how you can 'monetise' your friends, 'contacts' and activity. I tell them that I sell my labour to the university which extracts surplus value by charging fees to students. Apparently this is called Not Entering Into The Spirit Of Things. 
  • Write to Print Services, three administrators, a Dean, an Associate Dean and two senior colleagues in search of a scanner or administrator help that will allow me to upload my colleagues' REF output to the HEFCE site. Much of this activity is, fittingly, conducted on Kafka's birthday. 
  • Contact all the people we'd like to give visiting lectures. This is the easy part: they all say yes even when I explain that the only payment will be in the form of Saag Aloo. Negotiating with Rooming while avoiding a Referral to some other department which specialises in Making Things Difficult is the hard part. 
  • Attend the Board of Governors meeting. Yes, I'm now a governor. It's fascinating but I'm not sure I'll get the hang of it before my term of office is over. On the bright side, I may manage to crash the university before then too. 
  • Union casework. Once the constant activity of teaching stops, all the stress is unbottled and people ask for support. If they're very unlucky, they get me ('You think you've got problems…?').
  • Staring at the unread book piles (3 office bookcases, 4 bookcases at home) then checking actuarial websites to see whether I'll live long enough to read them. Then wondering whether I've accidentally bought anything rare enough to substitute for the pension contributions I didn't make in my 20s. (I haven't). 
  • Going to the canteen to play Guess The Vegetable.
  • Occasionally check in on the tumbleweed blowing about my rarely-updated blog, Plashing Vole. 
  • Go for training meetings to organise the UK School Games (Sheffield, September: plenty of tickets available). Plus the county and regional fencing committee meetings. 
  • Attend committees. They don't stop for summer. They expand into the teaching space. 
  • Attend Clearing training. Do Clearing, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.. This isn't until mid-August. You get a free lollipop and one-to-one tuition for every 10 UCAS points. And valet service on your car during lectures. 
  • Obsessively follow the Tour de France. Acquire technical terminology ('he's off the back of the bus and will be in the broom wagon if he doesn't up his cadence') which will vanish by August 1st.
  • Write references for students. Some will be a pleasure. Others involve looking up said applicant, checking the photograph and wondering whether you've ever met. 
  • Playing odd music loudly on the computer. My office friends are usually tolerant of my choices, but summer's great because they're never here. Something about 'having a life'?
  • Coping with summer heat by flicking through the snowstorm photos I took… in late March!
  • Advise re-sitting students that introducing new primary texts into a failed dissertation 3 days before the re-sit due date is probably not a good idea
  • Marking resits and deferred work. I've just read a superb dissertation, on cultural theory of domestic space. One page cites both Lemony Snicket and Heidegger. Bolder than I ever was at undergraduate level. 
  • Read all the books I've allowed people to believe I'm already familiar with. 
  • Finally do some ironing and work out what exactly is living at the bottom of the sink. 
  • Clean the office mugs. Preferably with the aid of UV lights and one of those boxes with sleeves/gloves they use to handle radioactive material. 
  • Throw away those 2003 second-year essays currently hibernating under the desk. 
  • Fix the bike so that you can think guiltily about going out for a ride rather than dismiss the notion safe in the knowledge that it needs some maintenance first.
  • Update the weakly-humorous satirical postcards and quotes posted on my office door in a laughable attempt to differentiate myself from my fellow shaved monkeys.
  • Answer emails from family, friends and students explaining that no, just because teaching has stopped, we aren't having a massive holiday and can't 'get a last-minute flight to Ibiza this afternoon'.  

OK, so it beats most people's jobs. But you've got to admit: it's not lazing by the pool laughing at the rest of the world as it labours! By the end of summer, I'll need a little rest.


Anonymous said...

Yes but that doesn't answer what the students are supposed to do all that time? Why aren't degrees condensed with finance being so tight?

Anonymous said...

Come on - we all have worked with members of the country club set - who are not research active, do no service and most certainly are not spending their summers updating lectures. Hell, I am not spending my summer updating lectures - I am writing.

Anonymous said...

You've put a smile on my face this morning and I thank you for that, hehe. Did you know you have a future in comic writing? I recognize so much of what you describe that my nodding has turned into titubation. I could add a few to that list, but am in danger of letting the palpitations get the better of me today.

As for students, well, why don't you start on that reading you complain about not- having-time- to- do during teaching time, expand your horizons and read those books which will turn you into the erudite eloquent graduates you are meant to become.

A grumpy-old-woman-without-a-key-to-her-new-office-and-a-pile-of-re-sits-to-mark-a-pile-of-reading-to-get-through-and-an-article-to-finish-before-the-end-of-July-module-guides-to-write-reading-lists-to-update-etcetera-etcetera-etcetera-etcetera

organic cheeseboard said...

I'd also add teaching - study abroad courses, doing taster sessions in schools, etc.

And - a fairly new one to me - counselling a LOT of students about their grades and performance. If those same students had spent as long working on the assessment as they do complaining/worrying afterwards about their possible classification...

for students in the summer - in some ways I am sympathetic to this though much less so when students complain that they don't have time, in termtime, to do their course reading - it's what the long vacations are for (at least in Humanities subjects).

We used to teach for a lot more weeks at my University. The main reason we are changing this to a shorter 'industry standard' term structure? Because the government actively encourages, through its performance monitors on completed degrees, University years to finish early in the year.