Researching a Holiday

I’m writing this while on holiday. Well, not really. I’m writing this very much in the office where I spend most of my year, although now that I’ve got my new passport (returned with commendable swiftness from the recesses of official bureaucracy) I must admit that thoughts are starting to wander towards another trip. Still, I am ‘in work’ and yet in the eyes of many I am ‘on holiday’. How is this possible? And what do academics do in such circumstances?

‘What do you do in the holidays?’ is a question often posed by students just before they leave and/or by friends who think (like the students) that life in a university pretty much ends once there are no longer people on campus to teach. What are we going to do, start teaching ourselves? The answer, as some of you doubtless know all too well, is that in a way we do just that: we try to get on with our research.

Summer months, apart from pleasures of the cricket season, are usually a good time to make a start on research projects, or pick up the ones that have been on a fairly low heat since the last holiday period. The article that was almost there but just needed a bit more material; the review of books read recently; and in some cases the larger project that needs a couple of months of consistent work to bring its disconnected parts closer to a coherent whole. You can, of course, work on these during term-time, but opportunities are not as frequent as you’d like them to be. Aside from actually teaching classes, there’s the office hours for student consultation, the committee work and meetings, and the general administrative side of university life. An afternoon might be set aside as ‘library time’, a book might be read, a conference paper abstract might be written (and if you’re really lucky, the paper to go with it) but beyond that: ‘leave it for July’ is often my fall-back position.

So here we are. The campus is quiet, the phone hardly rings, the days stretch ahead with the promise of things to do and get done. It isn’t a holiday, of course, but having said that it is a part of the job that feels wonderfully indulgent as well as rewarding. My task for today is to finish off some reading and, if I’ve got my thoughts roughly where I want them, to start to put them into a coherent framework for an article-length essay. Which all feels very agreeable, especially when Test Match Special starts in an hour and the England-India match is intriguingly posed after the first day’s play.

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