Head of the Class

How to teach psychology well

What is Summer For? Recalculating!

Students and teachers of psychology should use the summertime wisely and well

Like many people, my family has a Garmin. I’m sure you either have one or have heard one with the vague (or perhaps not so vague) British accent that says, “Recalculating!,” should you deviate from her crisp directions. In our household, the Garmin sees less use now that all of our Smartphones have Google Maps and a GPS (or similar apps) but that voice and the concern expressed by “Recalculating!” have stayed with me; she cannot be denied.

For teachers of psychology, I think summer is a time for some recalculation, that is, some dedicated reflection on how the summer months should be used well. Note that I am not simply suggesting that being productive is an important goal (however, if you are a grad student, a would-be grad student (i.e., an undergraduate), a college or university faculty member, a secondary school teacher, or maybe you just don’t want to squander the heat, light, and pleasure of summer), then you should think about how you intend to spend it.

Memorial Day is now a memory, but it was only a few days ago (did you just feel a chill—where’s the time going already). That means we have a little less than 90 days or thereabouts to enjoy summer (yes, the sticklers among us will note that “summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st” but for many of us, summer closes down the week before Labor Day, so there is no time to lose).

For undergraduates: Summer seems like play time—and it still is—but you need to give some thought to your futures. Undergrads should think about their next steps. If grad school in psychology (or some other area) is in the cards, now is the time to think about taking (and perhaps studying for) the GRE and any area tests (e.g., the Psychology GRE), as well as deciding what degree to pursue (MA? PhD? PsyD?) and where (finding a list of appropriate grad schools takes time and your grades, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation, plus research experience will matter—don’t wait). If you have research experience in a faculty member’s lab or on a project, great—if not, you need to try to get some research experience so that your application stands out from the crown.

For graduate students: Summer really isn’t playtime—it’s work time. Time to study for comprehensive exams, write a dissertation proposal, write and submit (!) a conference proposal or, better yet, an article, whatever works for your area of study and discipline. Research doesn’t end in the summer, though the time is often used to draft and write up research findings. Don’t waste it! If you are nearing the end of your grad school career, you might begin to think about the job market (ouch, I know).

For faculty members: Summer must not be wasted (though deserved down time must be built in), especially if you are fortunate enough to be in a tenure track post. And while you may go on a picnic, summer is not meant to be a picnic—use it or lose it. Summer is writing time—get those articles drafted and submitted—and the more the merrier. If you can apply for a grant, do—or spend time looking for grant opportunities. Fall seems in the distance but suddenly it will be Labor Day—why not do your syllabi NOW an get them out of the way (I did mine last week--writing syllabi is a great way to productively procrastinate from doing more meaningful work while still being productive). Prep any new class, but don’t use that as an excuse (you know who you are) to write up research, draft a book proposal, write a book chapter, whatever.

If none of the above fit you: What thing, personal or professional, has eluded you or plagued you? Even if you are working full time, you will still feel a sense of relief at having summer—so use the time wisely to pursue or to do whatever thing(s) just won’t get done. Recalculate!

Now, what about that down time and you? I am a firm believe that Americans rest too little and now have too little private time. Try to rest, relax, and rejuvenate no matter which of the above profiles fits you best. But take some serious down time—at least a few days and, in the ideal, two weeks without work commitments (I know this may not be possible, but mental and physical health are linked to recreation in the real sense of that word—recreating yourself while taking a vacation from the normal grind). Read a book. Go to a park. Attend a concert. Go to the movies. Escape sometimes. Just be sure to recalculate and do the things that will help you personally and professionally come September (and beyond).

 Sum-sum-summmer!

Dana S. Dunn, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Moravian College, a liberal arts college in Bethlehem, PA.

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