An Academic’s Summer To Do or Not to Do List

As I write this, the spring semester has been over for exactly 15 days.

In that time, I have visited Mom (wanted to go up there after her surgery in February but was chairing a search), had my mammogram (overdue by three months), had both cars serviced (made it without having a tire blowout), submitted an abstract for a fall conference (remembered that the post tenure review will be here soon), planned and began teaching an online intersession course (found out the cost of having two daughters in college this fall), and agreed to teach an additional course this summer (did I mention the cost of having two kids in college?!).

You may be wondering, “What else is left on that to do list?”

Quite a bit.

After I finish this blog, I have to begin developing the syllabus for yet another (my third) summer course – a graduate-level literature course that condenses a semester into four weeks. I will also have to start monitoring the department’s summer schedule because I step in as acting department chair next week. I’m sure that will require some nuance as I’ll also be getting ready for my daughter’s high school graduation and hopefully be attending a campus-wide diversity conference on a day when I need to pick up my husband, older daughter, and mother-in-law at the airport (all at three different times!).

I can’t forget the two reviews sitting in my inbox – peer review does not take a break over the summer. Oops – I just remembered another review waiting for me (I volunteered for some campus reviewing for a fall event). Neither can national accreditation. I’ve already met with my English education counterpart for that process. We have to spend this summer aligning the common assessments for our special program area because data must be collected for three cycles prior to writing the report that is due in five years.

Later this summer, I will be a member of a four-professor team facilitating a federally-funded summer workshop for local English/language arts teachers who are teaching on provisional licenses. Oh, that’s right, I’ll need to start planning that, too. I had hoped to squeeze in a visit to Philadelphia between the end of the June teaching block and my summer workshop, but that may be hoping for too much.

Then it will be August when I will indulge in a week-long vacation with my husband before coming back to get ready for the fall semester. And, more importantly, I will have to miss some of the campus start-up activities at my university to take my daughter to hers.

And as I try to finish this blog, I see that last night’s storms have blown down part of the fence. I wonder who to call to fix that...

At this point, you are no doubt thinking, “Why are you trying to depress me?” I know, I know, your summer to do lists rival my own.

Why do I take on so much? The easy answer is that I need the extra money. My state’s budget (actually as I write this, the state budget is still not complete – the legislators still have 10 hours to finish their work) will no doubt result in another massive cut to higher education. I cannot expect any kind of raise for years. This extra work keeps my finances afloat.

There’s another reality, however. I take on so much in the summer to stay in shape—to keep my overworking stamina operating at the same level all year. If I were to slow down, I may not find the strength to go back this fall. If I were to “take the summer off,” the lack of stress, anguish, busy-ness, and emotional drain might be too enticing.

I did it once, you know. I took the entire winter break off and only read Janet Evanovich books. She writes a mystery series in which all the books start with numbers (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.). I checked out the first fourteen volumes from the library and read one after another, for four straight weeks. It was bliss until I realized I had a new prep to teach and had waited too long to work on the syllabus. I’ll never do that again.

Okay, then. I better stop. I need to call someone about that fence, feed a friend’s cat, and splurge on a trip to my hairdresser (have to hide that gray). But first, I better check in online and see if there’s anything to grade. This blog has been a great distraction, another something to check off the list, but let’s be honest: Those to-do lists are long, especially for female academics.

As a mother and wife and academic, I have struggled to find some kind of work-life balance, and have, like many of my female counterparts, opted to do it all, and it didn’t really bother me until recently.

Maybe it’s because I turned 50.

Maybe it’s because I’m now a full professor.

Maybe it’s because I’ll be an empty nester this fall.

Maybe it’s because the office in my department’s building that I’ve coveted for 10 years is going to a junior faculty member.

Yes, that’s it. I’m really quite bitter about that damn office, and it has become something more for me—a rallying cry? Or, maybe a battle cry? Or, perhaps, it really is a message that something needs to change.

I’m starting to wonder what really matters in these academic positions. I’ve lived frantically for the last ten years, missing some of my children’s life events and short-changing my own academic publications, all for what? I read numerous stories like my own: one about so-called flexibility for female academics and another about the superwoman fallacy. Studies suggest that academic women are quietly desperate. Most recently, my female counterparts have been talking about a report that women in academia do more service work than their male counterparts.

One of my recent blogs discussed my emotional fatigue, but that blog doesn’t get at the heart of the issue. All of those articles discuss how women feel, but none really discuss how we can stop. How can we change the institutional practices that perpetuate these inequities? Let’s face it, our institutions benefit from our work more than we do ourselves.

Now, I’m thinking that there are a few items that can be taken from my summer to do list—call it my “Not to Do List.” At the top of that list? Anything that doesn’t benefit me.

What do you think? Can you prioritize yourself this summer? If so, let us know: What are you going to [not] do first?