Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reflections on age and semester break

As I have commented before, the end of the semester has always been a very important time for me, full of meaning and ritual. I note, as I look back, that the meanings have changed as I have grown older, and I find that I use the time very differently now than I used to use it.

When I was in grade school and high school, I always awaited the December holiday break as a time to get together with family who lived farther away to celebrate and eat copious amounts of food. I also got to slack off around the house, living in that netherworld of no responsibilities, and I frequently lost track of time/day/date as the break moved slowly by.

While attending undergrad, break was a time to try to catch up with old friends who had all gone off to school in other locations. We would ditch our families, hang out, go to movies, etc. We also often picked up part-time jobs to make a little money over break, so the friend gatherings had to happen outside of work hours. My family saw me only ON the days of the actual holidays. But I always made sure that I had 2-3 days at the beginning where I would hang out in my parents' house, let them cook meals for me, watch their cable (free movies! Yes!), and sleep VERY late.

In grad school, break became a time to catch up on reading and (occasionally) late papers, work on projects I had been avoiding, etc. I would also go to the library on my last couple of days on campus (once papers were in ) or my first couple of days back on campus and browse the professional journals in my field, the ones I never had time to read during the semester if they weren't assigned or related to my own research papers and projects. Yet, I refused to give up my 2-3 days of vegetation and catching up with old friends, so the struggle between accomplishing a lot and doing nothing emerged as a new theme.

Once I became a professor, there was a LOT more work to be accomplished during the break between semesters, including prepping for class next semester, finishing up new articles and grants for submission, revising and resubmitting old articles, reviewing other people's articles, writing student and peer recommendations, etc. Break is a time with no other workplace responsibilities (no classes, no meetings, no emails from students and colleagues, etc.), so it is the perfect time to get some actual work done. Of course, my partner also feels that it is a perfect time for her to get some attention, so I have had to make some adjustments to my own workaholic nature. My family (and now my partner's family) still thinks this is family time, AND my lazy self still wants to use the time to veg out and watch movies and read and relax.

I look at my older colleagues, and they tend to use the time three ways: (1) working on research; (2) visiting with their children and grandchildren; and (3) traveling, often to international, cool locations. For me, traveling is a summer thing, as I hate messing with winter travel that isn't related to seeing family. That may change, eventually, since my partner and I have no children and we have a little more spending money as we grow older. Perhaps we will start thinking about a little winter travel... after 3 days of vegging out and watching endless movies! :-)

Hope you enjoy your break!