“What did you do this summer?”

“What did you do this summer?”

It’s a common enough question for people who work in academia. Our annual cycle is different — our years start in September and end in May, and summer is our time to tackle everything that the “regular year” couldn’t hold. That may mean research, course refinement, professional education and, of course, lots of reading.

And at the start of September, we ask each other: “What did you do this summer?”

After working in higher education, in one form or another, for 16 years now, I still have problems with that answer. Summers are a blur of reading, writing, conferences and online courses, and wondering if I should be doing more… or less? The average university professor works 61 hours per week during the academic year.

Should academics work less? This brief post is not the first (and surely not the last) to ask that question. There have been plenty of words written about the U.S. work ethic and our refusal to take vacation days. Perhaps faculty are simply calendar shifted in our stubborn refusal to stop working.

As we concurrently discuss rising levels of stress and anxiety among U.S. university students and their faculty, perhaps we should look more closely at our comfort level with the answer of “Nothing” to “What did you do this summer?” In research methods, we learn that negative results are still legitimate findings. There is something in nothing.

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