What Your College Professor Does Over The Summer

I ran into a student at the coffee shop on Monday morning. We talked about the English grammar class she took with me last semester. I gave her unsolicited advice, which she at least pretended to be glad to receive. She asked me how I will spend my summer “vacation.” I gave her a (very) abbreviated version of my summer plans. Here are my un-abbreviated plans:

First, even though your summer started, mine hasn’t. You’re done with final exams, papers, and projects, but I’m still grading and entering final grades. And after I’ve entered final grades, I spend an afternoon dealing with frantic emails about these final grades. I’m always surprised, saddened, by these emails because your final grade shouldn’t be a surprise, since I’ve been keeping an online grade book for you all semester. (Happily, I also got an email thanking me for a great semester, so checking my email this afternoon hasn’t been all bad.)

Suddenly, you’re all (or almost all) gone. Now, I can go to that one bar downtown that is always, always packed with students … and drink. Soon, though, I realize that it’s too expensive to drink in bars. Plus, the vodka cranberry my friend ordered was actually a vodka Hawaiian punch. So we go home – or to a friend’s place – and drink some more. We basically have the equivalent of a frat party on our back patio… if frat parties softly played The Decemberists and The Shins and broke up at 10:30pm with people pleading that they had to get an early start on work tomorrow. But, I’m not quite ready for bed. It’s summer! I don’t have to go to class tomorrow and stand in front of a group of people (who don’t want to be there) and present material in a coherent way. I don’t have to foster group discussion. Best of all, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in my to-grade pile. So, instead of going to bed, I will have a mini-dance party. Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off will be the highlight.

Now that it’s summer, I have time for self-care. I’m going to get a haircut, wax my eyebrows, get a massage, sew the button back on a shirt, and go for a run. I have the time and the energy to cook that really complicated meal I’ve been wanting to try – but not quite enough energy to do the dishes afterward. I also meet up with friends for coffee now. I’ve got three coffee dates in the next two weeks. That’s more friend-outings than I had during the whole spring semester.

With students out of town, I can be more cavalier, more carefree. I no longer assess what I’m wearing before running errands (Is my hair brushed? Are these shorts too short? Do my shoes match?). I am now totally OK with looking like a hobo while on campus. (Yes, me not wearing ripped jeans to class was me dressing up.) I go to the gym and, since no students are here, I get to use my favorite piece of cardio equipment. The attendants honor my request to watch HGTV on one of the big TVs. As a bonus, I don’t have to sit next to a 20-year-old boy who obviously only eats protein while in the free weight area. I use the school recreation center’s pool – proudly displaying a hot pink swimsuit and bright white thighs while I do some reading (The syntax of appositive relativization: On specifying coordination, false free relatives, and promotion). I drive around town and campus secure in the belief that there’ll be a parking spot – even downtown or near campus.

Some professors teach summer courses, but I don’t. Instead, I use the summer to catch up on the “other” part of my job: research. Right now, I’m filling out an application to do ethical human research. I’ve bought plane tickets to travel to my field site. Soon, I’ll be lining up interviews. I’m working on a manuscript and a conference abstract that explores some data that my collaborator and I collected over the past semester. Spoiler alert: resumptive pronouns are illicit in appositive clauses. Crazy, huh? And I’ll start thinking about what my next research project should be. My husband’s research plans are slightly different than mine. He’ll dream about visiting his graduate students’ research sites while he sits in his windowless office, reviewing drafts of manuscripts written by students and post-docs. He’ll finish writing a proposal for a really big grant. While writing the proposal, he’ll briefly consider standing on the side of the road holding a sign that reads Will do research for money.

We’ll travel for pleasure this summer, too. We’ll visit family who live a few states away. We’ll pretend that there’s enough time to visit old friends in the same trip and completely exhaust ourselves. We’ll research ways to squeeze out a day of fun during conference travel. One of Scott’s conferences is in Norman, Oklahoma, so if anyone knows of local fun to have there, let him know.

Finally, my summer ends before your summer ends. I have to be on campus a week before you for meetings and class prep. I’ll spend the last few weeks of summer writing and finalizing a few syllabi. I’ve already picked out the books; I had to do that last semester. Writing the syllabi will become an emotional rollercoaster. I realize now that I have to incorporate more scaffolding for long-term projects than I’ve ever had to incorporate before to get similar results. But I struggle with how much handholding I should do for adults. I finalize primary readings. Somehow, I’ve almost forgotten how terrible it feels to sit down with a stack of papers that are, roughly, the same exact paper written 30 times over, and I consider adding an additional reading. I vacillate between feeling that a semester is too long and feeling that a semester is too short. I am totally freaking out that the summer went by so fast.

So, student, that’s my summer. I’ll have done a lot of research. I’ll have gotten a haircut. I’ll have recharged thanks to good food and good friends. I’ll have psyched myself up and meticulously prepared for another semester. See you in the fall.

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