Summer Plans

It’s summer.

Well actually it’s that odd time – between the end of the semester and the start of summer proper, when we still have a few administrative tasks, time set aside for graduate student committee meetings and qualifying exams, and the other things pushed until after exams are done. The weather is also in between – or rather up and down (though that’s also climate change). Either way I am trying to plan out my summer – my personal plans, travel, and writing goals, determine my really specific (and manageable) goals, and sketch out a (reasonable) schedule to make them all happen.

There have been a few posts around – by @duffy_ma at @DynamicEcology and by @ProflikeSubstance – on planning a sabbatical (I am sure I’ve missed posts on this – please add links in the comments!). Planning summer feels similar – but without the external pressures of still being asked to do service. The common theme is: How do I make the best use of this time when this CHUNK of un-scheduled time stretches out in front of me? There are some good comment threads to those posts too and I’d love to hear what your summer plans are, and what works (or doesn’t work) for you.

I am nervous about this summer – hence this post – partly because it’s easy to just have summer creep past without really taking advantage of the teaching-free time and getting caught up in work but not the work that gets a paper finished and submitted.

I’m doubly nervous about being productive this summer because next semester I am on leave – a post-mid-tenure-track-review-leave that is supposed to give us a semester get all the things we were told to work on at the review done with a couple of years to go til tenure. So that’s <counts on fingers> 7(!) months to do nothing except do research, write papers, write grants, manage the lab, mentor my students, read and think, and oh – did I mention write papers? So 7 months! I am unreasonably excited about this time. But also apprehensive. I can imagine how fast 7 months is going to go, and how easy it would be to get to the end and wonder what happened to the time. And I have plans!

Specifically, my goals for the summer* are:

General goals

  1. To get back in lab, and pick up the project that my postdoc was working on (she just left); as well as trouble shoot the couple of things that aren’t working as well as they should be.
  2. Find Make time to read and think
  3. Update lab website
  4. Get on top of ongoing lab management tasks

Writing goals

  1. Finish one paper: I have one on the back burner (that Plan A is to run one more experiment, and then maybe split it in two. Plan B is to write it as is and send it in).
  2. Write a second paper: Technically this is my grad student’s work, and since xe will be doing the bulk of the writing, it won’t be ready to submit until the end of summer.
  3. Get the post-doc’s project written and submitted. This has some work that needs to be wrapped up (see 1) and then PD will be involved in writing the paper (from afar). I expect this to be an early fall submission, pending a couple more experiments.
  4. Resubmit an R01
  5. Submit an NSF full proposal (or CAREER depending on the pre proposal results)
  6. Submit one foundation grant

Personal Goals

  1. Run a half marathon (soon!)
  2. Train for triathlon (August) – my first in a few years.
  3. Make time for relationship
  4. Spend time with friends
  5. Continue to read novels
  6. Get back to writing regularly @TenureSheWrote

So this is a crazy list, and if I were to just make a list of these, and called it a To Do list – as I have done in the past – I’d think it was ambitious but do-able. And then I would not get it all done and feel miserable** about myself, about my career, about my work ethic, and blame procrastination and laziness***.

What I’ve started to learn recently**** to do instead is map out each of these goals into specific bite-sized chunks, work out how long each of those small chunks will take, and then try to fit it on a calendar.

I find this doable for papers and grants. Even if it’s not perfect, it helps me get an idea of How Long Things Take. Turns out that even with my overly optimistic timelines, not everything is going to fit within 3 months. Already I know that #6 – that’s going to be a late summer submission, and #7 that is not going to be finished until fall*****.

I’ve also flagged things that can get dropped of the list or delegated. The lab website needs to get done, but I pay an undergrad RA who could work on this during assay incubation times. And since it has been made perfectly clear to me that my priorities need to be papers over grants right now, and since the foundation deadline is very very close to one of the NSF deadlines, it is flagged as a possible “drop” item.

By mapping out deadlines and working backwards (and forwards) to make a reasonable-ish timeline, I can get a pretty good sense of the shape of the summer, workwise. But other things are harder to fit into a timeline. I have the very broad “make time for friends and my relationship” items up there – and there are some specifics here. Weekend trips with my SO****** (both for races and for fun), an annual hiking trip with a BFF, weekly activities. Some of my triathlon training doubles as each of these things. But a lot of these goals are hard to “schedule” because they aren’t all specific activities. Still, they serve as a reminder that my work hours need some constraints. I need time at the weekends not working – and more and more I’m trying to make this most of the weekend. I need time in the evenings to spend with other people (and you know, clean my house and other adulting requirements). So these goals, in many ways, act as limits to my work days. And this is a good thing.

The other thing I’ve learned is that I work best when I have something of a routine to my workday. In the semester my daily routine is some variation of: Workout – write – emails – admin/teaching prep – meetings/teaching – break – write/data analysis. The teaching parts of my week essentially act as deadlines both for the actual class prep, but also because I KNOW so many hours at that time is teaching, when I sit down to do something else, it has to be done before teaching, so I can’t procrastinate.

During summer, I don’t have the same kind of externally imposed structure to my day or week, so I am trying to impose that structure for myself. One structure that recommended by one of my faculty mentors was “One third of the day writing papers, one third in lab, and everything else falls in the other third of the day”. Right now I have started with: workout – writing papers for a couple of hours – “other” (emails, grant writing)-lunch- lab – “other” (data analysis/grant writing/reading and thinking) – finishing off the day with more writing – then leaving work by 6:30 (I’m aiming to get this down to 6 most days). The goal here is efficiency, not MOAR TIME.

To be honest, I currently find this routine exhausting – though it’s only been a week and I’m sure I’ll toughen up. I think it’s the shift back to lab work, and maybe because I’ve been spending time during incubations and washes reorganizing the lab (and probably driving my grad students and lab manager mad in the process). On the other hand, I am really enjoying doing benchwork and being back in the lab, and being able to switch between the writing and doing the actual science. I think that some of my reading/thinking time will end up being concurrent with the time I’m in the lab – and that’s a good thing too.

So that’s my plan for the summer. It’s a crazy plan, but it just might work. I’m nervous because I’m yet to have a summer (and to be fair, this is only my third in this job) where I’ve felt like I’ve accomplished enough at the end of August. Which I guess should be another goal – achieving the FEELING of having done enough. The key for this is remembering that there are things that are “optional”, things that won’t go to plan. And I also need to remember that the personal goals are NOT, in fact, optional and do count as important achievements*******.


* When I started writing this post, there were 9 things on this list. It kept growing.

** Hence my hatred of ToDo lists

*** My inner-critic lies to me

**** Thanks to a great program called the Faculty Success Program. Really this is the first real training on time-management and organization I’ve ever had. Lots on how to prioritize the important things to have an efficient and productive work life and also an actual life outside work. (And how to let go of the other stuff)

***** Early fall. I’m still an optimist.

****** I have quite a few long weekend trips planned, but no proper vacation this summer. That’ll happen later in the year.

******* My mother recently reminded me that I used to be good at keeping my personal life and hobbies going. Apparently in my last year of high school (which in Australia is pretty intense) I declared that I was not going to let it consume my life. Through grad school and as a postdoc I had mentors that supported this attitude, though there were many times when work consumed my life. I think I really forgot this attitude when I was on the job market and then overwhelmed with starting the lab here. I’ve gotten better again over the past semester. It makes me a much MUCH calmer and happier person.


6 thoughts on “Summer Plans

  1. Quite agree on structure to the day being key – I’m a freelance writer working from home most days, and if I didn’t have a pretty set structure I’d sit and look out the window from morning til night 😉 Good luck with your to-do list – it looks pretty ambitious to me!

  2. I think the important bit came at the end … I wish you well to work on the FEELING of getting something accomplished. (And that goes for all you other people reading this).

  3. In a similar vein, one of the biggest changes I’ve made of late is taking the time to actually do the job I want to have rather than the job I think I’m suppose to be doing. I wish I figured this out earlier. This has been incredibly hard w the ever present grant writing crush, but I found myself getting more and more miserable writing about what study section said they wanted to see while a nagging voice in the back of my mind kept telling me those weren’t the things I actually wanted to be doing.
    Even though I’m a few years behind on thinking about this, one of the best ways I’ve figured out to make the job I want materialize is to put some hard limits on my calendar. I plan my week 7 days in advance and fill my calendar with the things I really want to be doing in my dream job using very practical blocks of time.
    One of the toughest ones was reading. I LOVE reading. It’s exciting and awesome and totally can take me back to my ‘giddy about science days’. But its impossible to do when you’re tired and it is far too easy to put it off. Rather than just doing it, I sit w labbies every other week and read on a topic in real time. No prep really, just a wipe board, some ideas and 2hours of figuring out what we could do as a next cool step. We almost never do the experiments we think up, but I often write authors, fan girl them and tell them what we came up with for ideas. Sometimes, if they are interested, we will do a mini experiment for folks or share samples, but its mostly been a fun way to be more engaged w the lab and other scientists in my field. And it makes me feel much more like I’m doing the job I want to be doing.
    I also think hard about how I spend my energy, not my time. For instance, I need a website update too, but I’m not going to spend my energy on it. I’m going to spend an undergrad’s energy on it, because its not really something that has to be on my radar, TBH. Yes, I like doing it, and I have a fun site but DAMN …I can’t do it all.
    I also say no a lot. I need to do it more.

    • I love everything about this! Especially the reading with labbies idea. And yeah. I can’t do it all either. Until this past semester I was trying to and it was not okay.

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