In which summers shrink

Academics talk nostalgically about rosy-tinted times of yore when summers meant a lull in lecturing duties.

The months would unfold before you, a vast landscape of research possibilities. It was a time to write papers, craft grants, catch up with the technical literature, come up with new hypotheses, spend more time chatting with your team. It was a time to dream big, and then work out how to make it happen. It was a time to attend conferences – remember those? – and reconnect with your colleagues worldwide. Some of us might even be tempted back into the lab to do a few experiments personally, even though it would open us up to a bit of good-natured ridicule from the younger set.

These days, I fear, are gone for good. Long after the students pack up and scatter to the four winds, academics labour on. First there is the marking, and the mark moderation. Next comes the Exam Boards, and preparing new exam material for the Later Summer Assessment, for all the students who need to re-take. And more marking after that, and the LSA Exam Boards. In the midst of this, there is a new academic year just around the corner. With online materials becoming increasingly prominent, gone are the days when we could just dust off our PowerPoint lectures. Instead, we find ourselves having to update to newer platforms and widgets, adding transcripts to video lectures, developing interactive content, working out better ways to make our teaching engaging and useful. In departments where teaching is expanding, there are new modules to create and populate, and new courses. We have open days to attract new students, and taster days to keep offer-holders interested.

I am not complaining – I love teaching, and I love the fact that my role at the university continues to expand, embedding me more firmly into the fabric of the department. I love working with students and helping them to reach their fill potential. I even like the challenge of juggling teaching with research, alongside the entrepreneurial and engagement activities that I also pursue. It means my days are full-on and always busy, so that the hours fly by – to say nothing of the days, weeks and months. After so many years of not being sure, of exploring the fringes of where a PhD could take you, I have finally found my calling.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss that summer lull, when science truly took centre stage, and I could sink into it like a warm bath. These days, it’s just a quick shower – then I’m off to do something else!

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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