Academic breaks are an awkward time for us scholars. With only 15 weeks in the classroom every semester, there is little time to escape, little chance for a “vacation” day. Academic breaks are a time to recharge and to play serious catch up. Even with a serious work ethic, the two to three weeks in December and January feels like little chance to get my bearings.
There may be no “face time” commitment except for errant committee meetings, but we’re working furiously on our own projects, prepping for meeting presentations, and maybe, just maybe, taking time for ourselves. Ask anyone in my life and they will tell you that I have been camped out at my local coffee shop working like crazy, writing, editing, and trying to get this dissertation finished. Every day, I see that self-imposed deadline of year-end 2012 moving further and further away, and every day I’m clamoring to keep it in sight. Let’s not even talk about how my spring 2013 course is. not. prepped.
There are plenty of people writing about the general misunderstanding of the academic lifestyle. I have to fully restrain myself when anyone asks me if I’m “on break” as if that somehow means I’m not working. In fact, I’m so furiously working, that I refused to take off New Year’s Eve day and would have worked on New Year’s Day if my in-laws had not visited for the afternoon. My husband reminded me that January 1st “is a holiday after all.” My response, “My work knows no holiday.”
Now, I know I’m not curing cancer. I am fully aware of that. I do study school inequality and it’s an issue that knows no calendar. But when you work for yourself (and one of my mentors pushed me to treat my work like running my own business), the harder you work, the more you accomplish. What’s frustrating is that you can work hard and still struggle to prove your worth on that CV (a discussion better saved for a future blog post). Sure, there are plenty of tenured people out there who kick back over Christmas and in the summer because they are “on a break.” I have tried to treat this non-face time as serious work time. And because I’m at the end of my dissertation writing, I see a light at the end of this long, long tunnel. I want this project finished. So I’m hungry to get. it. done.
I was wondering about the cyclical nature of other jobs. Teaching cannot be the only job with a cycle to it. Accountants and financial people see the same ebb and flow of work with quarter-end, year-end urgency. Do people ask them whether they’re “on a break” now that April 15th or their year-end mark has passed?
Having worked in academia in some capacity for over ten years now, I am thankful for the flexibility that my profession affords me. I get plenty of time with these faces and I have found a way to establish sufficient work/life balance. But, when anyone asks me if things are quieter because I’m “on a break,” I’ve taken to replying, “what break?”