Last week, I heard this question maybe 10 times. Do I get to have a fun filled vacation summer until September? Since I am probably off all summer, I have no problem writing whatever letter of reference that is tossed into my inbox, right? I get it to some degree, I have a strange role at the University since I am a teaching intensive faculty member, which may seem like a high school teacher that teaches at the University level. And there is absolutely no disrespect meant here for my colleagues who teach primary or secondary school, but unlike them, I don’t have a summer off. They totally deserve it…..I couldn’t imagine teaching at the intensity that they do from September to June. However, the answer is no, I don’t get the summers off, nor could I manage my job if I did.
It has been two weeks since the final exam period and I seriously cannot believe that May is over half way over. Where did the time go????!!! My days are full and so are my nights. I managed to take Sunday evening off from working, but it really doesn’t come close to being much different than the academic year. My work is busy. It rarely gets done during the regular working hours and inevitably drags into the late hours of the evening after I have put my babies to bed.
What do professors do during the summer? The short answer is everything that we do not have time to do during the academic year. From September to April, I am basically “doing” work, so there is little time for thinking/planning/organizing/researching. Summer is all of these things. Summer is all of the preparation that needs to happen in order that September-April actually happens in a somewhat less crazy fashion.
This summer is particularly busy for me. We have a brand new lab course that I am involved in planning. This is a beast of a task to get right and will take most of my time for the next four months. We are planning new laboratories to deliver on behalf of us and of our colleagues. We are planning experiments that we think students should be able to accomplish, that will be exciting for them to tackle and we are aligning the projects with what they will be learning in their lecture courses. I have at least four different labs that I need to design and ensure is feasible for this upcoming year.
Since I am a course manager for a very large second year course, I am responsible for ensuring that the course material that we use is up to date. I have spent the last three weeks working with a student employee upgrading our course notes package. It is basically a mini-textbook with fill-ins that our students bring to every lecture. I work with each instructor on my teaching team to align their course notes to the lectures that they deliver. In the last 8 years that I have managed this course, this learning resource has always evolved and is a time consuming piece of work that I know is worth the effort. I teach in two other courses that utilize homemade course packages that summarize the content that we want our students to understand and the images that assist in their learning while they attend lecture. Those also need to be updated as the focus of what is being taught shifts.
I deal with mark appeals, transfer credit requests and adjudicating the next batch of students. All of this administrative work takes an enormous amount of time. Today alone, I dealt with mark appeals all day long. I wasn’t able to get to the second item on my to do list. Perhaps tomorrow the transfer credit requests will be completed, although I have a day of meetings that will likely delay this being done before the end of the work day.
I write reference letters. The number of requests continue to explode and the earlier deadlines seem more pressing than previous years. My students are more interested in applying to international medical programs that begin to process applications in June. I have barely caught my breath from the last batch of letters and a new group is requesting letters to be submitted in two weeks. This year, I have finally set some boundaries because I know that I just can’t squeeze these all in so early in the summer. Letters of reference are not an expectation, they are absolutely in addition to what I do as my job. Since I teach so many students, and actually get to know many of them, I often write 100+ letters a year. And that is with many declines that I have to do since I don’t know every student well enough to make a proper assessment.
I am learning. I have a number of areas that I have become responsible to teach. I need to review the latest literature to ensure that what I am teaching is up to date. I was fortunate to attend the Experimental Biology conference in April and attended a number of renal physiology presentations as well as presentations related to gastrointestinal physiology, both areas of physiology that I have had to become the expert in since becoming a faculty member. There is so much to know and learn, and the more I know and learn, the better I am at delivering lectures to my students. Both areas of physiology were not a component of my graduate training and have been topics that I have had to learn through much research. We have a science education conference at our institution that I am fortunate to attend in July, which will help with stimulating some new ideas for what areas of teaching and evaluation I need to improve in. I will always need to learn and develop or else I am no good to my students. I don’t have time during the year to do much of this, but in the summer I have to pack it in so that I feel prepared for the new year.
I really am not trying to complain in this post. I adore my job and feel very fortunate to have a career that I look forward to going to every day. I get to learn for a living! As a former lifelong student, this is ideal. I also love people and love to be around students. But for all the professors out there that have faced this very same question…..yes, we do work all summer and yes, this is a regular job that doesn’t have a four month holiday. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way.