An unwelcome question
At a party recently another guest kindly asked me how I felt about “returning to work in the autumn” after my “long summer vacation”. I held my breath for a few seconds, then carefully replied that my annual leave entitlement is 27 days plus 14 fixed/public holidays. (This may be fewer than his – I didn’t ask). To get the conversation back on track, I then enthused about my fabulous two-week holiday in the far north west of Scotland in August, and the events that I managed to catch during the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe. In response he told me about his own summer break. We were both able to enjoy this pleasant, yet insignificant, conversation ending on a happy discussion of the best British summer weather in years.
My new acquaintance was visiting mutual friends Edinburgh for the weekend only, so I doubt that we will meet again. I know, however, that I will have this conversation again – next summer, the summer after that, and possibly every summer until I retire – with people who mistake the undergraduate academic year for the academic’s year. It seems that many believe that universities empty annually in June as lecturers and professors disappear for a three month long holiday. Where must they go? “To rented villas in Tuscany” would appear to be a reasonable guess in the popular imagination.
Business as usual
In my case, apart from the two weeks that I spent in Sutherland and the Outer Hebrides on my bike and boogie board (not simultaneously), a Friday night in London for a colleague’s retirement do, and a weekend split between the Lake District and Manchester for a friend’s 50th birthday party, I stayed in Edinburgh over summer 2013. I went into the office on most weekdays. On the occasional day that was free of teaching, meetings or external commitments I worked at home. So it was mainly business as usual with teaching, research, and academic management tasks keeping me at my desk for about 10 hours a day.
Alongside my colleagues I held supervisions with Masters and PhD students, offered revision tutorials for students taking exams in July, maintained contact with my third year students on work placement, and commented upon and marked the work that all these students produced. I celebrated with those who completed their courses this summer (including one of my PhD students) by taking part in the academic procession on graduation day. Externally I was heavily involved in two events for PhD students: a day on altmetrics at the ESRC Scottish Graduate School of Social Science Summer School, and another at iDocQ, the annual doctoral colloquium for Information Science doctoral students. I also looked after PhD admissions while my colleagues were busy on the equivalent tasks for taught courses at undergraduate and Masters level.
Of course, with the new academic year looming, we always spend much of the summer preparing teaching materials for the new term (often wishing that we taught in a more “static” subject area – perhaps Latin grammar?)
Related to my teaching roles, I supervised a British Council sponsored intern from Macedonia during his summer stay in Edinburgh, and a sixth form work work experience student, both of whom contributed to the development of the new Napier Connect WordPress site for Edinburgh Napier’s female Computing and Engineering students.
This summer my research group initiated nine new project bids. In addition, we dedicated time to the dissemination of research findings from current and recently completed projects. For example, my colleague Dr Jan Auernhammer and I delivered a paper at the i3 conference in Aberdeen in June, and we also prepared an article for submission to the Journal of Information Science. I completed some further research in the National Library of Scotland for an extended article on research impact in July, and worked with a co-author to scope out another article that we hope to finish before Christmas.
Universities need to be managed throughout the whole year, whether or not the undergraduates are on campus. Just as the teaching and research work continues uninterrupted over the summer so do the tasks associated with running any large organisation. So I spent a good chunk of June, July and August staring at spreadsheets, making contributions at meetings (both internal and external), helping with HR, writing reports etc.
“Returning to work in the autumn”
So following a pattern that is repeated in every university town in the country every year, like the majority of British academics I worked hard most of the summer.
The rhythm of our work is about to change now that the academic term is underway and the undergraduates are back (for example, it’s more difficult to schedule meetings when we’re wedded to the teaching timetable). However, “returning to work in the autumn” is always a fun time of year in universities, regardless of where you spent the summer months – whether that be the reality of your office in Edinburgh, or in the Tuscan hills of the popular imagination.