A Practical Post: Setting Summer Goals

«¡Gooooooool!» Every time fútbol players meet a goal, the announcer shouts at the top of his lungs and a stadium full of rabid fans goes wild. If only there were an equivalent acknowledgment for grad-student goals….

There’s nothing like gray skies in April and the recent memory of several “snow day” school closures to make me yearn for summer. Add to that the intense burst of energy needed to write seminar papers (for all of you suckers still doing coursework) and grade finals (for all of us suckers doing TA and AI work), and it can be hard to envision May through August as anything but a long, warm nap.

When you look around the posts here at Pterodáctilo, however, it seems like people are using their summers to do the most amazing stuff. Hannah went to “Rare Books camp,” Sam and Frank both experienced nostalgia trips in Cuba, Megan stalked Borges in Argentina, and I got up close and personal with archivists in Santiago, Chile. With that in mind, I asked Rebecca Lippman, a Brazilianist from UCLA, and our own Frank Strong, Megan Coxe and Jonathan Fleck to chat about how to make the most of your summer “vacation.”

Going Abroad: First things first: going away for summer research isn’t an option for everyone. Many of us have families, so we can’t take a month off to go traipsing around some foreign library by ourselves. Many of us are not American citizens; meaning that a lot of funding pools are not open to us, and traveling back and forth from the US may not be practical. Many of us  just can’t afford to not to work during the three months a year we don’t get a stipend.

If you are planning to travel abroad this summer, however, whether for language acquisition (FLAS) or for field research (LLILAS Tinker or other S&P travel funds), it’s a good idea to set some goals for your time away. Now, you may think you already know exactly what this trip is for. Didn’t you have to write an application months ago detailing your project to a bunch of strangers? But, as Rebecca reminded me, what is actually most valuable about a summer abroad is often very different from what you expect.

“What you need to remember,” Rebecca said, “is that FLAS is just as much an opportunity to build community as it is to acquire a language.”

Your fellow students in a FLAS language program remain your colleagues even when you all go home in August, and the people running these programs often have ties to American or Brazilian universities. Maintaining this network can help you out down the line when you’re looking to do things like run a grad conference or organize a panel.

If you’re at a more advanced stage of your degree, Frank reminded me, it’s essential to reach out to as many possible contacts (archivists, foundation workers, professors, artists, activists, etc.) as early as possible over email, phone, or Skype, and to meet with them in person as soon as you arrive at your field site. You also want to make sure you know what you are looking for in advance:

When you’re abroad, your time is limited and everything (everything!) takes longer than you expect. You could spend days waiting on a permit to research in a given library, for example, or a whole morning waiting to see a document. So it’s imperative that you be as prepared as possible, so that you can see what really brought you into the country. Most libraries and archives have catalogs online–I recommend getting to know it inside and out.

Megan and Jonathan seconded the notion that things don’t always go as planned. Jonathan, who traveled to Rio last summer, had his original research plans derailed by the protests that were rocking Brazil at the time. Megan encountered more banal challenges:

Expect everything to go wrong. Last year, I had planned, gotten in contact with libraries and scholars, and as soon as I got to Argentina, the archives I needed were unavailable. There happened to be another copy that wasn’t in the catalogue at a different library, but I wouldn´t have known if I had just stuck to official records and the internet. Talk to everyone and in person, build and use your network of scholars. It was the only way I managed to get the material I needed.

Finally, it might sound funny, but keeping “field notes” from your time abroad can be a great way of recording what you learn and for tracking leads. I bought an old-school bound planner to note down appointments, record people’s contact info, keep accounts and take notes—it was a lifesaver!

Staying Home: Most of us are probably planning to stick close to home this summer. If that’s the case for you, one of the most productive things you can do is to write and submit an article.  Article writing feels intense, so it’s key to remember that you won’t be starting from scratch. In fact, it can take as little as two weeks of focused work to transform a seminar paper or Masters Report section into an article.

More importantly, however, early summer is a good time to submit articles, because late summer is a good time to receive rejections. The inevitability of being rejected more often than you are accepted is something we as grad students have to get used to, but that’s easy to say and really, really effing hard to do. Summer is a great time to receive rejections because if you feel terrible, you can go spend the rest of the day sitting by the pool, or watching romantic comedies and eating Ben and Jerry’s in bed, or just straight up crying your eyes out. No one needs you to attend a seminar, or teach a class, or generally look presentable when you’re still feeling raw. When you set yourself up to get rejected in the summer, you train yourself to get stronger in a place and time where no one can see you sweat.

I know this from personal experience. In 2012, I submitted an article in June and got a rejection in August, on my honeymoon. It stank, but at least only my husband had to see me cry, mope and pout. After a nine-month pity party, I revised the article again and sent it out in April of 2013, only to be rejected again that August. In certain ways, the second rejection hurt more, but it didn’t last as long, and in less than six months I’d revised and resubmitted again elsewhere. When I got the decision letter this March, I was two days away from presenting at a national-level conference – no matter what the response, I knew I couldn’t let it shake me or slow me down. I opened the email already making plans for where I would submit next, only to find a very welcome surprise: an acceptance! Naturally, the next day I found out I’d been rejected from something else, but to my great surprise and delight, it barely hurt at all! You will always be rejected more often than you are accepted, but summer practice rejections can help you learn to roll with the punches.

If you’re interested in learning more about writing and submitting an article this summer, feel free to attend the GRACLS Article Publishing Workshop next Friday, April 18 at 3pm in CAL 226.

Taking time: Most importantly, setting goals for the summer is also about setting limits. We have a tendency as grad students to allow work to spill into every aspect of our lives. Summer Break is about, well, taking a break. Even if you don’t have any other obligations this summer (haha, as if), it’s a good time to practice healthy work-life boundaries. Ask yourself how much you can get done if you promise yourself you won’t work more than x hours a day and take at least one weekend day completely “off”? How can you incorporate more self care into your work routine? How will you know when you’ve achieved your summer goals, and how will you reward yourself when you do?

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