As the daughter of a retired college professor, I’ve experienced first-hand how academics dedicate a staggering number of hours to their jobs, both inside and outside the classroom. Surely a nice long summer break makes up for those sixty- to eighty-hour weeks?

The reality is that professors spend a significant majority of their summers working and challenging themselves intellectually. Some may teach for part of the summer, and most use what time they do have away from the classroom to conduct research, write for various publications, attend and present at conferences, learn something new and prepare for the next semester.

If you’re a professor, as important as it is to focus on your work during the summer, it’s equally important to find time to relax and recharge. The trick is to combine your work with a vacation or fun activity whenever possible. Choose your research or fellowship locations carefully, with an eye towards balancing work and recreation opportunities. For instance, one Lehigh University professor said his 2016 summer plans included teaching an online course for the first summer session while sailing up the coast to Connecticut, where he will spend time at his family’s summer home while continuing his research.1 A Utah State University professor spent part of her 2014 summer in England, presenting research on colonial America at a conference, and from there took a trip to Scotland to hike in the highlands.2

Of course, you can find ways to enjoy your summer even if you are unable to get out of town—and permit yourself to get involved with activities completely unconnected to your job. One Lehigh University professor makes sure to leave enough room in his packed schedule to host at least one big picnic at his home, complete with volleyball and other games.1

Make sure to keep track of your finances while pursuing learning opportunities; fellowship grants and reimbursements from your employer don’t always cover all expenses. Consider renting a home via an online rental service or another low-cost housing option when traveling. And don’t hesitate to think about what you can accomplish simply by connecting with others and exchanging ideas while sticking close to home.

In the end, you know your summers are going to be busy; there will always be research to be done, courses to prepare, chapters to be written and a laundry list of deadlines. Do your best to ensure you take a break from your regular routine, and get a chance to do things you usually aren’t able to make time for throughout the rest of the year. Even a short period of rest can give you an opportunity to take a fresh look at how you present your course material, benefiting both you and your students.


1 The Brown and White, Lehigh University online newspaper,, published May 1, 2016

  2 Utah State University Department of English website,, published August 21, 2014