• The Ghost of Grad School

Five Summer To-Do’s that Every Grad Student Should Consider

So summer has finally arrived. That warm breeze brings with it thoughts of relaxation and contemplation. But in the world of graduate school, taking summers off isn't likely in your wheelhouse. But that's OK because balance is key.

Here's five things to consider doing this summer to both find some relaxation but also ensure you hit the fall semester with full force.

Get that manuscript under review

Don’t let the fact that many professors disappear for the summer dissuade you from getting that next publication-to-be under review at the journal of your choosing. Most journals still conduct their review processes like normal through the summer, sending out article review requests to their lists of reviewers. I have reviewed papers, submitted new manuscripts, and resubmitted R&R’s in the summer before.

Pro-tip: if you resubmit an R&R in the summer, I’ve found that a reviewer or two will often drop off in the next round of requested revisions. Sometimes pesky Reviewer #2 is nowhere to be found!

Now, you might not get it reviewed as quickly as you might during the school year. BUT consider that many, many folks work on their manuscripts through the summer and then submit them as soon as school starts in the fall to get them off their plate. There is often a big, big submission of articles needing to be reviewed at the beginning of the fall. It’s better to be slightly ahead of that pile than slightly behind.

Prepare for the job market

Even though you might not be about to go on the job market this fall, it is still a great idea to start preparing your materials far, far ahead of time. Why? Because of a few reasons:

  1. You’ll probably procrastinate when the time does come, leading to you having to submit half-baked materials.

  2. You probably aren’t the best salesperson of you/your own work (relax, many grad students aren’t). This means that you need even more time, energy, and practice put into putting your best foot first.

  3. You never know what perfect job will pop up a year early that you can still apply to and potentially defer the acceptance of and/or move up your timeline to accommodate the start date.

Getting prepped for the job market includes getting several professional-grade documents ready to go. In my field (the social sciences), these are what are commonly requested in job applications:

  1. Curriculum vitae (CV)

  2. The usual longass list of all your accomplishments in your higher ed training. If you do not already have a CV and you are in a PhD program or are starting on in the fall, go ahead and get a rough draft of this started now! You should aim to update your CV about once a month, updating it with all the new little tidbits you have to add to your list of accomplishments (e.g., conference presentations, a new manuscript under review, etc).

  3. Application letter

  4. Two to three pages of why you are a good fit for the position. This usually includes a discussion of your program of research as well as professional development experiences that you’ve had (e.g., running a lab, learning a new technique, etc).

  5. Research/teaching philosophy statement

  6. More information about your research and (potentially) teaching style/philosophy. These are not always requested as you often cover your research aims in your letter of application and (unfortunately) many institutions don’t care about how well you can teach(!). But if you are applying to a teaching-heavy position, your teaching philosophy needs to be solid.

  7. Professional references

  8. You need three PhD’s to be able to say that you rock. These are usually your dissertation committee (i.e., your major professor and the two other committee members).

  9. Job talk presentation

  10. This is in many ways a rehashing of your letter of application. Still a vital piece of the puzzle (assuming that you will be invited for an interview) and NOT something that you want to start creating when you get invited for said interview. Let me say that again. You do NOT want to start creating your job talk after you get invited for an interview. You want to be polishing the job talk at this point in the process.

Take a week or two off

Yes, grad students ought to rest a bit in the summer. Now, this doesn’t mean that you spend every day by the pool neglecting your writing or other duties. BUT you should find time to completely set aside all graduate responsibilities for at least a week.

Don’t just engage in “bad” forms of relaxation (e.g., binge-watching Netflix, drinking heavily) because that’s your only reliable form of escape (hint: that’s unhealthy). Read a fun book. Go on a road trip. See old friends. You need to get out of your head so that you can come back to academic life in the fall feeling refreshed.

Find quality rest. And engage in that rest. Turn on your “out of office” email autoresponder and delete your email app from your phone. Tell those who work with you that you’ll be unreachable for the duration of your rest week. It'll be worth it in the end.

Start good habits

This may seem like a slight contrast from above but it bears worth mentioning nonetheless: Use the summer to start some good habits that you’d like to see carry over into the fall. I’ve found that good habits can be very difficult to ingrain into our daily lives when we try to initiate them under the duress of the academic school year. Instead, use the two to three months of summer to form those habits so that you are a well-oiled machine by the time classes start again.

Here are some good habits worth considering:

  1. Daily writing

  2. This is one of the hardest for many students to do consistently but (particularly if you are aiming for a research-intensive career) it is the highest return-on-investment activity that you can engage in.

  3. If you are in the first few years of your PhD program, aim for 60 to 90 minutes of writing a day. If you are in the dissertation part of your PhD program, you should be aiming for three to four hours of writing a day.

  4. Three to four hours of writing??! How is that possible?? It simply is with practice.

  5. Exercise

  6. Being regularly active makes you sharper in nearly every other domain of your life. It helps with stress reduction and sleep quality. It’s worth the sacrifice.

  7. Meditation

  8. Having a clear mind is critical if you are in a career where you have to think for a living. There are many forms of meditation across many religious (and non-religious) practices. Find one that sticks for you and get used to it. Think of meditation as exercise for the mind. It’s simply a good practice to have.

Remember, it takes 60 to 90 days to form a habit, meaning you need to start practicing your good habits near the beginning of summer if you want them to fully take root and bear fruit for you in the fall. Start early, don’t fear failure, and keep going.

Give back

Lastly, one of the most rewarding activities that you can engage in is giving back to your community. This can look vastly different depending on who you are, what you consider your community to be, and how you want to give back. But the point remains: giving back is a piece of being fully human.

I would recommend you consider finding a way of giving back that aligns with your values and (if possible) research program. Do you study neurodevelopment of children? Join a non-profit that brings underprivileged kids into the world of reading. Do you study the effects of discrimination? Join a pride parade as a volunteer. Do you look at climate change? Give talks in your local community on how to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

Giving back doesn’t necessarily need to appear on your CV (but surely you’re welcome to add it if it fits) but the benefits of giving back will appear on your soul when hiring committees interact with you. While everyone wants to hire a big research hotshot that’s going to bring in grants, no one wants to hire a curmudgeon who doesn’t volunteer to meet any of the department’s needs. The world does not turn because of narcissism.

That’s it! What other things do you think grad students should aim to do this summer? Let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading!

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