How to Make the Most of Summer

Sami Schalk, Ph.D., 2013-14 AAUW American Fellow

July 08, 2019


People often assume that university faculty and graduate students take summers off, but those in academia know better. For many, summer just represents a different kind of busy. “Summer is often the time to do research that one can’t do while teaching — interviews or archives that require travel — or to dedicate time to research and writing that is freed up by not teaching,” says Sami Schalk, Ph.D., 2013-14 AAUW American Fellow and assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Schalk was the centerpiece of a recent #AAUWAsks Twitter chat exploring creative ways for women in academia to make the most of their summer break. Her research explores disability, race and gender in contemporary American literature and culture.

To follow are some of her tips for how faculty and students can make the most of the not-so-lazy days of summer:

Make a plan.

One of the challenges of getting things done in the summer is the lack of immediate deadlines and accountability. “With teaching, classes must be prepped each week, but in summer it’s easier to put things off,” Schalk says. She suggests setting reasonable daily or weekly goals and finding an accountability partner to help you stay on track through regular in-person or virtual check-ins.

“Of course, for folks who are parents, having kids home may be the biggest challenge!” Schalk says. There, too, planning can be key to finding pockets of time you can dedicate to work.

Summer is also a good time to look ahead to the next semester. “I wish I had known to make a long-term plan that first summer, particularly making a list of all the deadlines for fellowships and grants in the fall,” she says. “I highly recommend folks map out their coursework and comps timeline too.”

Go deep.

Without the usual distractions of teaching and rigid timelines, you can take the time to tackle work that requires focus or enhances your career. “I’ve used summers to travel to archives for extended periods of time, to write and revise, to attend professional development events and to make long-term plans,” Schalk says. In addition, it’s an opportunity to prepare a publication for submission and look for calls for papers and presentations.

Going deep can apply to networking, too. Use the time to follow-up with potential mentors or people you met at conferences during the year. “I also recommend new grad students take time to meet with peer mentors — folks ahead of you in the same program — to get insight into college/university/department-specific opportunities you should be prepared to apply for in the future,” she says.


Finishing a year of graduate school is a big deal, particularly if it’s your first year on the long journey toward getting a Ph.D. “Summer is a good time to assess how that first year went, check in with yourself to ensure this is what you want to do, and do things that remind you you’re a whole human, not just a student!” It’s important to maintain interests, social life and relationships outside of work.

“This is especially true for women of color, queer folks and disabled folks,” she says. “Academia was not made for us, and though our presence transforms it slowly, it can also wear on us… .”


Along those lines, don’t be afraid to lean in to the slower pace of summer. “Making plans that incorporate fun and relaxation in addition to work is also a key way to prevent burnout in my experience,” Schalk says. “Summer helps me remember what I love about research and being an academic.”