Monday, June 9, 2014

Maximizing Summertime as a PhD Student

The time has flown by, and I have completed my first year of the PhD program with As in all four classes this past semester - a miracle in itself considering the crazy semester that it was (I'll talk about this in a separate blog post on Finding Your Balance in Grad School). 

Now that summer break is here it's time for more reflection and time to relax... a little.  Here are a few tips I have to maximize student life while still enjoying the summer:

1. Enroll in summer school. This may sound counterproductive and does not sound like much of a rest, but summer school classes are often quicker to get through and everyone is pretty much in some sort of vacation mode. The mood of the class is likely to be more relaxed than the rest of the year. Depending on the schedule at your school, the type of class you select will determine how much of a summer vacation you will have. If summer school is going to take up most of your summer, choose a less demanding course if you can, or choose a class with a professor you enjoy working with. Let's hope to keep the summer as pleasant as possible! 

My school has two separate 8 week summer sessions. I enrolled in the first session and will still have several weeks of vacation when this is over. And, as a result I will be halfway through my doctoral coursework.  I'm also taking an independent study class. This one runs through the entire summer but has less of a demanding fixed schedule as a result. The final product of this independent study is some data analysis and a manuscript. This is work I planned on doing anyway this summer, and will get course credit for it.

2. Submit conference abstracts. If you find some interesting conference calls for papers during the summer, you might have more free time to submit and prepare your presenations than you would during other times of the year. You can do a google search for conference calls for papers in your field (or a related field) or see if your professors know of any good conferences coming up.Most conference abstracts are 150 or 200 words long and do not necessarily require much time to prepare. You will generally have several months to finalize your poster or paper presentation (you can adapt this from a class or research project you have worked with). Some conferences do ask for full paper submissions instead of abstracts. You can contact  the editors an informal email ahead of time to see if they would be interested in your research ideas before you proceed. 

3. Start writing manuscripts. When you're a PhD student who is pre-ABD, there is no better time to prepare manuscripts than in the summertime. Gather a group of classmates and work on a plan to submit for journal calls for papers. You will most likely not have difficulty finding other doctoral students who are interested in publishing. Section off the parts of the manuscript and ask a helpful professor to comment on your ideas and writing, and then work toward the goal of submitting this in time for the deadline.  If it doesn't get completed in time, finish the paper anyway, and wait to submit for another similar call for papers.

*** Some web links that I have found for calls for papers are through the UPenn Dept. of EnglishWiki CFP, as well as CFPList. ***

4. Get out of town and get a change of scenery. As part time or unemployed grad students we are on limited budgets, so it's time to get creative. Local trips this summer can be important escapes for well being. Driving out for the day a few hours away can give you that needed escape out of school mode. Camping trips aren't too costly if you can borrow a tent and have a sleeping bag. Getting away into nature can work wonders on physical and mental health. 

I hope that you will have had time to be accepted into upcoming conferences and have publications in process this summer, while still having some relaxing summer vacation adventures. Have a wonderful and productive summer.