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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Spring Broke

Suggestions for sneaking in a vacation on a grad student budget.

March 19, 2017

Patrick Bigsby is an alumnus, former employee, and lifelong wrestling fan of the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.




March, for all its leonine bluster and ovine tranquility, is oddly devoid of universal celebrations. Its most marketed holiday is signaled by mass milkshake consumption and the rest are somehow even less appealing: a homicide commemoration, a festival for tedious know-it-alls, and the most disgusting observance imaginable. Fortunately for us grad students, one niche March holiday is still going strong. For a whole week, our work and study on campuses across the country are mercifully interrupted by the most distinguished March tradition of all: spring break. Since I firmly believe those words are best when screamed, I turn to the young Mr. Van Houten to convey my tone digitally.


Unfortunately, a proper spring break celebration can easily elude grad students. All of the grad students I know, limited by modest stipends and hamstrung by various research, writing, and grading to-do lists, are eschewing trips to Gulf Shores and Cozumel in favor of saving money and doing work. Fiscal responsibility and scholarly productivity are noble pursuits, as my fellow GradHackers have attested; I commend those of you with the discipline to excel in those areas, particularly during a time of the year when many campuses are deserted. But, nobility and all, they stand out as markedly un-fun during a week traditionally devoted to margaritas, poolside lounging, and general frivolity. Even grad students can (and should) have fun during spring break, so I’d like to present my ideas for spring break celebrations that won’t eat up all your time and money but will still let you cut loose for just a few dollars and a few hours, grad student-style.


1. Start Rooting. I’ve written before about how grad students can benefit from sports fandom, but I’ll stow my cheerleading routine for now because, in addition to spring break, March coincides with a sporting event tailored to casual and even clueless fans: March Madness. The annual Division I men’s basketball tournament is, in many ways, the perfect cheap and easy spring break escape: games are widely televised seemingly continuously, rife with drama, and readily lends itself to the practice of competing for intra-office/department/family/barroom bragging rights. You don’t need to be working toward a Ph.D. in bracketology to get involved with March Madness: prediction brackets filled out at random, by children, or on deeply-held conviction regarding the superiority of reptiles routinely outperform the careful work of basketball nerds. Gather a few friends, drink in the sports channels’ ginned-up storylines, and accidentally prove yourself to be the Nostradamus of your department. This is even more fun if your school is one of the 68 teams competing in the field.


2. Get Outside. Traditional spring break destinations include tropical beaches, ski resorts, and other distant, pricey locales. If you’re able to swing an exotic trip, more power to you: I live in a frozen hellscape that kicked off spring break with single-digit temperatures and three inches of snow and if I could stop writing this post in favor of lying on a beach, I’d have been there five minutes ago. If, like me, time and money concerns prevent you from frolicking with the dolphin pods of Pago Pago and you’re stuck reading this post, you can still capture some of the benefits of more glamorous spring break destinations. I’d start by checking out the nearest National Wildlife Refuge: they exist in every state, are free to visit, and provide miles of trails and vistas to get some air that hasn’t recirculated in the library’s HVAC system. Even if your local climate necessitates bundling up, it’s still an opportunity to get some exercise and disconnect without the need for a plane ticket or four-day minimum stay.


3. Freshen up your office. Sure, spring cleaning is an odious chore. But this is spring break cleaning and you can turn that chore into an opportunity. Given how campus populations thin out over spring break, that week gives you a chance to show up at your office in your grubbiest clothes with a bottle of Lysol and unfettered access to the giant rolling trash can in the break room without a) getting chastised for showing up in your sweats b) offending your officemates by disinfecting their desks or c) interrupting departmental functions. Spring break is a chance to really give your office a thorough scrubbing: throw last semester’s unclaimed student work in the garbage, dust behind your computer, and handi-wipe cold and flu season off of drawer pulls. Take it a step further by hanging some art and getting some cool desk accessories. If you feel like this is a waste of time you could spend on academic work, remind yourself how much more productive and personally satisfied you’ll be after perfecting your workspace.


4. Volunteer. The idea of spring break service projects, known to undergraduate student life directors as “alternative spring break” is nothing new, but grad students might have a tough time committing to a week away from their inboxes, even for the best of causes. Fortunately, immediate short-term opportunities abound. Food pantries, animal shelters, crisis centers, and other charitable community organizations have a have a never-ending supply of daily scutwork that, although not particularly glamorous, is operationally essential and simple enough to lend itself to drop-in spot duty. Service is an important part of a grad student’s life and a mini-alternative spring break will let you get away from your usual work in the name of helping others - plus you might like it so much you go back!

Did you go wild - on schedule and under budget -  this spring break? Share your staycations and spring fevers in the comments!


[Image provided by Flickr user Prakash and used under a Creative Commons license]


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