Ah, the joys of being a postgraduate student. Working through summer can be a challenge. Whether it’s having to keep yourself focused with the full knowledge that most other people in the university are off having fun, living ‘la vida loca’. Or whether it’s the longer, warmer days tempting you to go outside and put off working. Looming deadlines usually serve as little motivation to keeping one focused on work. This is where I come in…I have managed to power through working over a few summers and I’m in a giving mood, so here’s the tea.
Dealing with temptation
I have found that there is really only two ways of doing this, much like being on a diet. You could either try going cold turkey – not giving in at all. Or, you could allow yourself some ‘cheat days’. This really comes down to your will power and what works best for you.
What do I mean by going ‘cold turkey’? This would entail sticking to your usual work hours and going along as if it’s normal Rainchester. This will probably be easier in the beginning, say around late May, when there is fewer people on campus but there is still life about. This will get harder the further into summer we go. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but there’s something about being surrounded with other ‘busy’ people that makes one also want to get things done.
Sticking to one’s resolve can get harder, especially if you work in communal spaces such as the student villages. So, this is a great time to do work that requires silence and concentration (but won’t put you to sleep). Otherwise, the scarcity of people can lead to you kind of slacking off at times.
That is why I favour having ‘cheat days’. They provide a good balance between focused working and enjoying some of the summer break. This means tailoring your work hours to the change of circumstance. This can mean working one less day a week and enjoying the sun on the ‘new off day’. Or it could mean sticking to however many days you work and just working an hour or two less each day. Whatever way works for you. This has helped me remain focused and productive while in the office, especially as I have less time to get things done. It also meant I could have a bit more time to enjoy some downtime.
Change things up and be realistic – you’re only human
Every once in a while, the temptation might get the better of you. That’s fine. Yes, you have deadlines and things to do, though your productivity would fluctuate over time. Though instead of writing off the day, why not use the opportunity to work elsewhere. A change in environment could be a good balance between feeling like you’re also enjoying summer and actually getting some work done. Read those research papers in the park. Work on your thesis or dissertation in a café. Formulate your experiment protocol at a friend’s house. Wherever works for you.
Set realistic targets over this time and work steadily towards them. If it helps, plan ahead by breaking down what you want to accomplish and by when. You could also note down from where you want to work for each day and for how long. But please, I implore you, don’t put things off to the last minute, you’ll just be setting yourself up for unnecessary stress and perhaps even failure.
Bear in mind that, like most people taking a summer vacation, you will probably also be tired from the work and effort you’ve been putting in during the year. And you know what, you also deserve a break. Instead of powering through the whole of summer, spare some time to live a little. Whether it’s the odd barbecue or taking a week or so off to explore another city/village/town. Go for it. I’m a firm believer in taking time off to re-energise and getting back to things with a refreshed mind.
Most students look forward to the summer break. A chance to kick back and relax, or to make some money doing something either than university work. But this usually isn’t the case for PGR students. Yes, it sucks, but it won’t last forever. Sometimes we need a little nudge to keep us accountable and focused on what we need to get done. If you can, rope in some friends and colleagues in the same predicament and spur each other on.