Women in Academia: The Double-Edged Sword of Summer

Summer time on campus is a whole new beast. The golden days of summer are rolling along and as the days heat up, campus culture shifts to accommodate the summer season. Graduate school in the summer time provides a unique series of pros and cons that ensure that it remains an interesting and distinct experience from other semesters.

I’ll split this into two parts, the cons and the perks. The cons will come first because it’s my theory that bumming everyone out and then cheering them up is preferable to the opposite.


–          It’s harder to find funding in the summer. There are fewer classes being taught, so in general, the TA positions are few and far between. Also, given the structure of summer courses, working a summer session class is a different and wild experience.

–          Is your research dependent on weather, students, or extensive use of the facilities? You might run into some problems! Facilities, especially ones that cater in large part to undergraduates, may have reduced hours or staff, especially states facing budget problems. Fields, such as psychology, which rely on data gathered from undergraduate participants, need to plan around the summer time dearth of students. Of course, these are all things that one can plan ahead for, but it’s something to consider that the type and amount of work may change throughout the year.

–          There’s less structure. During the regular school year, even when graduate students are no longer taking classes, there are seminars, meetings, and other activities to give structure to the day. Graduate school can feel remarkably unstructured otherwise, which for some people can be pretty stressful and unpleasant. Trying to create a summer time structure is possible, but it takes work, and may involve looking outside of academia for activities.

–          The bagel place is only open until early afternoon! What is this? I need my bagel fix any time, any place. The nerve!

OK, now that I’ve made everyone think about how terrible the summer can be, let’s talk about the perks:

–          Fewer  people on campus. Generally, there are fewer people around because there are fewer undergrads.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I really, genuinely like undergraduates and interacting with undergraduates. They’re fresh and engaged. However, any time I don’t need to wade through a buzzing, confusing mass of inexperienced bicyclists just to get to the coffee is a good time. There are fewer lines for food, better parking spots, and a general empty air that can be really refreshing.

–          Everyone is feeling just a little bit more relaxed. There are more professors rocking jeans and loosey-goosey peasant tops. Graduate students and post-docs who are punctual during the year show up just a little late in the summer. Yes, there’s still pressure to get the work done, but there’s a nice easy feeling, like, if it’s going to be summer, you might as well try and enjoy some of it.

How about you? How does the summer semester/quarter feel different for you? Does it feel different? What do you like or dislike about it?


6 replies on “Women in Academia: The Double-Edged Sword of Summer”

Good stuff: better weather, quieter department. Longer days so I get more work done and can take late-afternoon coffee breaks before coming back to the office.

Bad stuff: better weather, thus tempting me outdoors. TOURISTS EVERYWHERE, blocking the bridges so I can’t get to the libraries quickly. College is also louder because in the summer they fill it up with American students who are all very sweet people but speak way too loudly.

I tend to get more work done, but also have more down time. This is because I always take a vacation, so I try to get a lot done beforehand so I can truly relax, and also because my annual thesis committee meetings are always in September, so I feel the pressure to show a lot of new data. But my boss is out more, which is more relaxing, and I do a lot more fun things in the evenings, and the weather improves my mood. Plus, there’s a nice break from all of the seminars and journal clubs, even though I don’t have any classes during the year anyway.

Good stuff: I second having fewer undergrads around. Campus feels much more relaxed without hordes of people crashing into each other when classes let out.

Bad stuff: The chemistry department’s coffee shop is closed all summer long. ‘Nuff said.

Good stuff again: Coffee shop being closed means I have to walk to another building to get my latte, which means I get a longer break from work. :-)

I really like campus during the summer. My adviser isn’t teaching which means he’s more available and in a better mood. I like having very few non-research obligations. And it’s way easier to get around campus without having to wade through the crowds (not that I really ever need to leave my building but sometimes I like to go out for coffee or lunch).

I’m trying to think of one thing I don’t like about the summer, and I can’t come up with anything. That said, it’s nice when fall arrives and the campus gets busy again. There’s just something nice about being on a university campus in the fall when the weather is starting to get cool again, and everyone is still somewhat charged from the summer.

Awesome post…I’ve just been thinking this issue recently. I’m about to start graduate school in English this Fall. I’ve heard from people in my program that students in their dissertation phase often stick around during the Summer, as do the few Master’s students who get Summer TA-ships or who do summertime independent studies.

I don’t think I’ll be around campus next Summer, because my dad is taking a Sabbatical from work and traveling, and most of my family is going with him. I’m curious to hear from current grad students if this sort of thing is looked down on, or if it’s not considered a big deal for students in the Master’s phase?

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