After Aeron  and Susan ’s posts about their summers, I feel like chiming in, though I’m a bit wary, given the comments on Aeron’s post from last week. So let me start by saying that I realize many people work longer hours, for less pay, than I do. I’m not writing this to complain, just to shed a little more light on the reality of the academic parent’s lot.
I, too, have one of those jobs that looks like it could afford me a “summer off.” After all, I don’t teach after early May, so I have no particular schedule to meet. Yet this summer I am actually taking a planned family vacation of more than just a few days for the first time in I can’t remember how many years. How does this happen?
First of all, as both Aeron and Susan have already noted, faculty, much like folks who are self-employed, are rarely “off.” Now, it’s true, faculty have contracts and pay that tends to keep coming in even if we’re not billing hours—that’s a big difference from being self-employed, and one I’m frequently grateful for. Still, in order to be where I want to be in my career — prepared for my classes, on top of my research, a contributing member of a scholarly community — I must work during the summer. And that’s not even considering my administrative duties, which continue—though they are lessened — over breaks.
This May I ran two faculty development workshops and participated in a third — that pretty much ate up May, though in the one week when I wasn’t doing faculty development I finished up some end-of-year materials and started working on a paper. In June, I’ve been writing a paper for a conference (later this week) and dealing with various administrative tasks that have carried over from the spring semester, while also getting started on preparations for fall. Even meetings continue during the summer — I just had one today!
In the meantime, my son just graduated from middle school, and my daughter has embarked on her first summer "away," working on a research project up at school. She’s working this summer much in the way I am: on a self-directed schedule, mostly planning her own time, and enjoying the flexibility that such work brings. My son, on the other hand, will actually have a job (at least a volunteer one) for the first time this summer: for two weeks, right after we return from vacation, he’s going to help out at a day camp he’s attended for several years. He’ll be on the same schedule he was on as a camper, but this time he’ll be one of the helpers. Of course, this means his dad and I need to accommodate his schedule as well — luckily, his camp is on my campus, so we’ll be commuting together for a few weeks and I’ll be working pretty regular hours while he gets his first taste of working life.
I worry sometimes that my kids don’t have a realistic picture of the working world. After all, they’ve grown up with parents with flexible schedules, and much of our work is invisible to them. The fact that Mariah’s job this summer is so much like mine both amuses and slightly worries me — does she think it will always be this way? It wasn’t for me — like Susan, I worked multiple summer jobs, mostly in child care and food service, while I was in both high school and college. Will Nick’s two weeks make him want to come back for more, or will he, too, start casting about for more flexible hours — and pay the financial price for that choice? It’s too soon to tell. In the meantime, we do have that vacation coming up — it’s the first time in a while that the time and money have both been available at the same time. I plan to enjoy every minute of it, and then get back to work, even if it doesn’t look like it, again.