Posted by: thedirtybaker | July 12, 2011

Summer “Vacation”?

Universities are places of learning: reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  As such, we know a lot of words, and we use them extensively.  We try to be sticklers for correct definitions and proper usage of words, considering both their denotations and connotations.  So why is it that we are so unclear on what a “vacation” or a “break” is?

According to the dictionary in my computer, the relevant definitions of the noun “vacation” are:

“An extended period of recreation, esp. one spent away from home or in traveling.”

“A fixed holiday period between terms in schools and law courts.”

The relevant definitions for “break” as a noun are:

“A pause in work.”

“A short vacation”

“A period of time taken out of one’s professional activity in order to do something else.”

It’s summer “vacation” right now.  People assume that summer vacation and Christmas/ Winter and Spring Break are play-time, the pauses-in-work types of break for those teaching at universities.  This is understandable, since that’s the usual connotation of the word.  Occasionally, this is true.  However, recreation is not encouraged by the university system.  These are intended to be breaks only from teaching (unless we teach summer session, which I did until last summer), not from work.

"Working like a dog" might also need to be re-defined.

The requirement of “publish or perish” is based on the idea that whenever one isn’t teaching, one is doing research.  In other words, vacation is, as the second definition describes, the period between terms, and it’s to be spent doing another type of work: research.  It’s clear, when academics do their research in labs, that they are still working all the time.  For those of us in the social sciences and humanities, though, it’s less obvious.

I get snide comments from friends about my long vacation times, but they aren’t necessarily recreative.  “Vacation” is my opportunity to prep and revise courses that I teach the next semester, and if I ever want a job that isn’t adjunct, semester-to-semester (i.e. a contract that is open-ended, or even for a full year) I need to get publications out.  And I have to do these things during a time that I’m NOT GETTING PAID, because my contract is only for the semesters. I do get to self-schedule more, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not working.

Most people we know who go to Israel or Europe do so to tour and explore.  I did that in Europe – I had about a week’s actual vacation – but in Israel, I was working most of the time.  In fact, I was working 12-15 hour days much of that time, including 3 of the 4 weekends that I was there.  I was (and am) working on publication of the Iron Age I jewelry from two different sites in Israel.  I counted that I really had 5 days off in Israel: a day and a half of visiting my sister, half a day of playing on excavations, 2 days when I was waiting for the antiquities authority to find some materials for me
and a day of running errands at the end.  When I was waiting on the bureaucrats, I took care of the necessarily phone calls/ texts, then hung out with friends and gift-shopped.  It was fun.

Lest you misinterpret this blog post, I am not complaining about my trip, but rather objecting to the accompanying assumptions.  I was fortunate that my airfare to Israel was covered by one of the excavations that I worked for, and these were great professional opportunities for me.  I’m very glad that I took them.  It was a great trip; I studied an amazing jewelry collection, saw friends and had some fun on the side.  But I ask you to think of my trip as an unpaid, but nonetheless awesome business trip – not a vacation.  And maybe we should stop calling it “summer vacation” and instead call it a “research semester.”

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