Not From The Onion: The Stress of Summer Vacation

“We have this mythical belief that everyone will come out of it at the other end OK,” she said. “You don’t end up as a faculty member unless you did survive it. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t people in my generation who got so stressed out that they left. They did leave. We just never talked about them.”

So what is this terrible, stressful problem that not all faculty survive? Summer vacation. No really.

For nine months a year at research universities, instructors and students build communities from a transient group of academics unified by one thing: classes. Professors invest time in students, committees, and teaching; students invest time in their assignments.

…That changes in the summer. The fixed schedule disappears, the community disperses, and the work that has been building up over the school year can loom dangerously close to deadline.

…It’s in that solitude that professors and students say they experience what some call a “summer slump,” a period of isolation that can heighten symptoms of depression or anxiety for those susceptible to such disorders.

To cope with that slump, Ms. Hagen read personal testimonies and learned that the separation she feels is widespread, even normal. But her university never addressed it. “As wonderful as my adviser is, that’s not a conversation that was ever shared,” Ms. Hagen said. “We never talked about what’s important to your mental health.”

I think the conservative critique of higher education is overblown. But with articles like this in the Chronicle of Higher Education it’s no wonder that much of America is angry and dismissive of a coddled intellectual class that is utterly divorced from their own, normal life experiences. (I too am a coddled member of that class but I know how fortunate and privileged I am to have a job in academia.)

The correction only widens the gap:

Corrections (6/16/2017, 10:43 a.m.): A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Dafina-Lazarus Stewart as “she.” Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir.


Oh the plight of professors.

Oh, it was far more than just professors.

I dropped out of college and then became it's first computer operator for its first computer, working with students and ordering 80 column cards and printer paper, teaching students and instructors how to punch cards, load them into the card reader, and how to tear off the printer paper and understand the error messages, recruiting student operators to keep the computer center open to students 80-100 hours a week.

My first summer was a shock. Even though I had by that time gotten a new set of tasks computerized the college alumni and donors for data mining to extract wealth from them, keeping me busy, I still missed the constant student interactions, which by that time had become Mash "Radar" like - I could tell with my back turned, reading my printout, what error the student or professor was making, swiveling to instruct them on the correction needed. While certain people made the same errors over and over, those who quickly learned and presented new challenges to me were fantastically rewarding. I still remember them almost 50 years later.

The end of summer was bitter sweet. While finally gotten in the groove of focused mostly solitary work, dreading the end of almost unlimited exclusive computer access, the excitemental of a student returning from an IBM internship still lingers:

"Mulp, I have seen the future! The future is interactive!"

He's the person who named me "mulp", pronouncing my note signature "MLP".

Cool story. Too bad IBM didn't see the same future; we wouldn't have to suffer Gates.

The important thing is openness, now that the question has being aired with no subterfuges, the healing process can start. We shall overcome/We shall overcome/We shall overcome, some day/Oh, deep in my heart/I know that I do believe/We shall overcome, some day/We shall be alright/We shall be alright/We shall be alright, some day.
"Now is the summer of our discontent / Made glorious winter by this sun of (New) York".

"I think the conservative critique of higher education is overblown."

And then comes whats-her-face with her ze, zim, and zir. I'd say the critique is spot on.

...seems professors these days are delicate snowflakes, just like their students

Summer Flakes


Agreeing with something, but saying the overblown (or something similar), is how you agree with a general principle but distinguish yourself as slightly more thoughtful and sophisticated. It's okay though, we all do it.

Your position makes some sense, but I think it is somewhat overblown.

That's because Alex only agrees with economic conservatives. Socially he's as far to the left as any Sanderite. So while he may be disturbed by some PC he would be more outraged to return to the traditional norms and rule of bourgeois American society ca 1959 in matters of religion, patriotism, immigration, multiculturalism, national defense, assimilationism, etc. Thus proving that the academy is a leftist monolith. There are only leftists and a few libertarian strongholds. There are no conservative research universities.

"to return to the traditional norms and rule of bourgeois American society ca 1959 in matters of religion, patriotism, immigration, multiculturalism, national defense, assimilationism, etc."
Bring back the White-only water fountains!! I doubt Dwight Eisenhower colluded with Nikita Khruschev to win the historical 1956 election.

Segregation is the new radical, trendy thing in the intersectional left which xe seem to belong to.

Not to the levels of 1959, it seems.

>"...White-only water fountains."

LOL! Oh, the irony!

Nowadays they are "white-collar only" water fountains!

If it weren't so sickening it would be funny to listen to apartheid elites yammering on about the bad old days of segregation.

The lack of self-awareness is truly astounding!

There is no going back to the 50s. We need to look back further... to before the "enlightenment "...

You would think that the Catholic Church or the Mormons would respond to this monolithic exclusion by starting some universities of their own...

Ahhh, the Straussian reading.

Is Dafina-Lazarus Stewart a central example of higher education?

That there are some people with out-of-the-mainstream views in academia is neither surprising nor noteworthy. Examples like this one get press precisely because they are weird: dog-bites-man vs. man-bites-dog and all that.

Don't these people have a bunch of grad students to boss around more during the summer?

If you do research and teach during the school year you simply do more research during the summer and take a vacation.

How many people do you know would believe it is stressful to have the summer off?

OK, I missed the point.

What you want is disability pay to compensate you for the stress of not working during the summer.

Professors' Summers can be "debilitating." Look at the plight of retirees. Hey, we never get a day off.

"I too am a coddled member of that class but I know how fortunate and privileged I am to have a job in academia."

It depends on one's value system. If one values a life of minimal physical exertions and discomfort over one of physical activity, he's "fortunate" in some sense. The products of academia are mental, filtered through administrative bureaucracy. None of this productivity is meaningful, none of the insights gained, none of the theories formulated, until they are acted upon in a physical sense. Many thousands of deceased academics are now forgotten and their ruminations ignored. There is no real evidence that they even existed. At least the grandchildren of a factory worker or farmer or bricklayer can point to the physical products that grandpa made with his own two hands. Academia is a luxury made possible by increased productivity.

Academics (at least those in the STEM field) create new materials, theories and models of physical processes, make discoveries, microcircuit designs, algorithms, etc. They write articles detailing their process and results, and they patent inventions. They even start companies and train students in more effective approaches to engineering and problem analysis – one of the most valuable contributions to society. Sadly, some people can't wrap their mind around non-physical things. My research advisor started 3 companies, some of which played a key role in creating an entire industry, generating billions (yes, with a "b") of dollars of taxes, employed hundreds of people, and educated dozens of students. Many of those students have started their own companies or are now leaders in several industries. My own accomplishments aren't as great, but they do include several licensed technologies (patents), dozens of papers, a book, and a startup company with a product. Your generalization completely misses this type of activity and its benefit. Outside of STEM, using your logic, the output of writers and musicians is nearly worthless, too. I don't buy it for a minute, and I think it smacks of Communist / Proletarian propaganda of the 20th century Soviet Union. Been there, done that. No more, thank you.

I'm a STEM PhD. So let me add to your anecdote. In my experience the vast majority of STEM research is pointless. All the papers will have some novel title, proposing to solve some important problem in kitschy ways. But they never go on to materialize in the real world.

During my doctorate I tried to replicate the work of 3 other papers and failed each time. I suspect-but-can't-prove that one author's results were due to numerical diffusion artefacts. Another I couldn't figure out if I was wrong or they were wrong. The most famous and cited paper I tried to replicate had an outright fatal bug that would periodically randomize the topology. I am 95% sure of what the exact bug is because I ran into it myself while developing the model. However I am 100% sure their code is defective because their published figures show non-physical behavior.

No one cares. No one is using these papers for anything. Hopefully, no one is using my papers for anything.

Now you might think one could make a career out of replicating/falsifying landmark papers. But you can't, because if you validate a paper it's hard to get published because it's "boring" to repeat work. And if you falsify a paper, it's a huge political problem because the authors have friends and journals don't want to look stupid and... they can mostly get away with it because the only people who can QC their work are people with the same narrow expertise.

STEM education gets way too much of a pass in many places, especially on this blog. At most universities its garbage.

My school is listed in the top 10 for most STEM fields.

It's only a few superstar professors who arguably make any headway.

Most STEM jobs are boring and the same as they were a century ago, like testing water and culturing throat swabs and prepping blood samples for inspection.

But the process needs to be strictly followed, and the evidence that a person can and will comply is demonstrated in those "pointless" research papers.

As far as advancing science is concerned, determining whether your child needs antibiotics, and what kind, is ultimately pointless. Your child living or dying is almost certainly irrelevant.

Unless some new disease and cure is discovered from researchers focused on the cause of your suffering, but not your suffering. The best example is the suffering and death of Henrietta Lacks. So much great profit followed just that one of billions of routine cell culturing and examinations done by STEM workers.

Conservatives often argue that the only work that should be funded are those that produce the discovery of HeLa cells every single time.

Some academics generate huge value to society, many others do not. That's generally the common viewpoint.

Sounds like the rest of us.

None of us is getting out of here alive.

I feel more stress in my practice when I have too little work, not when I have too much, so I can understand the stress of the summer for academics. Everyone (well, most everyone) wants to be needed, and periods when one isn't can be very stressful. I often read articles about work being so demanding (24/7) that nobody has time for oneself, for family, for time to reflect. Who are these people? I suppose they are the movers and shakers, the job creators, so admired by, well, other movers and shakers and job creators. Is it a self-serving myth? Cowen has commented many times that the number of comments on this blog is highest during the work day/week and lowest on the weekend. Are readers of this blog not the movers and shakers and job creators who are working 24/7 to make America great again?

As a lawyer, I feel stress when I have too little work, but that's because I don't make any money. If my income was unaffected, I wouldn't care. I don't feel stress on vacation. I think that's bizarre.

Calvin's dad, from Calvin and Hobbes, has it right. A good week spent camping in tents on Itchy Island, Home of the Nuclear Mosquitoes, pooping outdoors and never getting a break from the rain, eating fish you or someone else had to catch... it's relaxing but also makes you appreciate the finer things in life, like toilet paper.

I suspect that there is a wide gap in the stress levels of pre- and of post-tenure scholars. Members of the former group know that they have just a few years to produce output of sufficient quality and quantity that they might have a career within their chosen field. To make it more stressful, this often happens while they are having children. Those of the latter group are spared that worry.

I agree. I also think many young profs put off the less desirable parts of research (responding to another set of inane editor comments) by focusing on teaching. When summer rolls around, they are faced with everything they have been putting off doing.

I would tell her to "buck up princess" but princex would be more appropriate.

"Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir, and the perjoratives emperex, goddex, ogrex, priestex, princex, tigrex, and waitrex. The Chronicle of Higher Education regrets the error."

There was a joke back when I was in school - a graduate degree is the snooze button on the alarm clock of life. If you weren't ready for the outside world after college, then just take a few more years in graduate school. I wonder if this mentality hasn't drifted upwards, and now academia is full of people who lack the psychological tools to ever leave the Ivory Tower.

They lack the psychological tools to reason out their sex from which way their pee comes out.

A lot of people who don't want to leave the rhythm of education decide to train as teachers, thinking it'll be a nice soft career. The realities of the job tend to hit them pretty hard.

This is a very human and universal reaction to change. Retirement, job loss, divorce, and even professors toiling around a deserted campus. Our stigma around mental health is unfortunate. Too bad that we cannot openly discuss loss without others trying to diminish our experience.

Conservative? Evangelical, Republican, intellectual (cultural or fiscal), or faux. Everyone is a special snowflake in their own way.

So getting divorced or losing one's job is just like having 3–4 months every year to do whatever you want while drawing a full paycheck and benefits? Huh?

There it is, that's the way to do it, get your money for nothin and the chicks for free!

I was a university researcher for a few years and I really liked the Summer. It is not that I didn't like mentoring and working with undergraduates, but it took up a lot of time and research projects tended to stall. The Summer gave me time to go full bore on projects and I normally made a lot of progress while the students were away. Of course, grad students and post-docs were still around, but they were pretty self-sufficient.

One beauty of the summer vac is that you can cut down to a fifty hour week if you want to.

Another is that you can go and blow your trumpet somewhere else. I once met a chap whose career took a great stride backwards when the US declared Iran her perpetual enemy, so that he couldn't go there to pursue his geology every summer. The same must have been true for some archaeologists, linguists, historians .... too.

when the US declared Iran her perpetual enemy,

Tell us more

The Chronicle of Higher Education is a magazine/place that is meant for scholars and academics... much like Engineers Weekly or whatever.

It is not surprising they have articles that seem awfully silly and parochial to outsiders like us. If Engineers Weekly had an article about how it can be annoying that people always ask you about your ring, it would equally weird and patronizing for us.

Quiet down with your common sense. We're being crotchety right-wingers up in here.


Tyler is an outsider to academia like you?

There ain't no cure for the summertime blues

>it’s no wonder that much of America is angry and dismissive of a coddled intellectual class that is utterly divorced from their own, normal life experiences.

Nice - just one sentence after decrying the conservative critique of higher education as "overblown," you go on to capture it perfectly, and as your own.

I'll be smiling about this all day, thank you.

Smiling with passive aggressive left-intellectual rage...don't smile too hard...

"A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Dafina-Lazarus Stewart as “she.” Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir."

I am Jack's total and complete lack of surprise.

Struggling to get through a long summer day all by myself, I googled Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart. No surprises there: her "research interests" is just what you'd expect from someone who prefers the pronouns ze, zim, and zir.

This sentence is best read aloud in the voice of a campy madman villian from a goofy 70s movie. Sorry, madPERSON

"Over the course of zir 20 year career in higher education institutions, ze has focused most intently on issues of race and ethnicity, sexuality, and gender, as well as religion, faith, and spirituality in zir research, teaching, and service to professional organizations and institutions across the nation."

Mir completely agree with yir.

It really is funny, it takes 100 words to get to the first words even hinting at what she works on.

What a bunch of dork losers.

I was trying to figure out the apparent conflict between Jamie Hagen "finishing her dissertation in gender studies" and the same Jamie Hagen getting a PhD. in "Global governance and human security."

I thought it was a typo, until I looked at the PhD "Core Requirements."

ConRes 623: Introductory Theory
GGHS 711 Global Governance
GGHS 713 International Relations Theory
GGHS 715 - International Organizations
GGHS 710 Human Security
GGHS 712 Gender and Human Security

I am depressingly unsurprised that you can get a PhD in "Global governance and human security" without taking a single economics course (I wonder if money has anything to do with governments and security?... nah, that's a silly idea), but you are required to take on on gender.

That's no worse than getting a doctorate in economics without competence in physics and geology. Nature is not an externality. Nature is an absolute constraint and straight jacket.

"Once they do that, they would be able to offer additional plans that do not meet all of Obamacare's requirements, thus providing cheaper options to younger and healthier individuals."

" "I think this new bill represents a substantial improvement over the previous version, and there are several changes that significantly improve our ability to reduce premiums," Cruz said. "

Ignoring the universal preX: every year you are a year older, and thus uninsurable with the policies Cruz advocates. The only cure is a bullet to the brain, or a fentanyl hotshot. At least Cruz works hard to make the bullet to the brain cure widely available. Legalizing opiates would be even cheaper, but also more profitable, as the British discovered when trying to buy massive quantities of tea from China.

In physics, nearly every equation includes "t", a precise factor, but economists merely handwave time as "in the [short|long] run". In geology, time is a primary reference point. Entropy always wins. The moon is a harsh mistress. TANSTAAFL

>In physics, nearly every equation includes “t”, a precise factor, but economists merely handwave time as “in the [short|long] run”.

I am always amazed by the breezy ease at which people on the internet believe they know and understand what economists do.

"Her work at the intersection of gender, security studies and queer theory appears in a number of peer reviewed journals

In addition to her academic publications, her writing about LGBTQ politics, reproductive justice and feminism is published

She also volunteers with Planned Parenthood as a clinic escort in Providence, Rhode Island"

Never forget that the religion of science considers the product of political hacks like this as gospel.

She's also unfunded, supported by her "loving family", and complains about the privilege of people who don't consider a summer off to be a bad thing. This would be very embarrassing for a person not living in a culture that worships victimhood.

Summer on campus is a depressing time. The cute undergraduate girls leave and many of the graduate school girls who are left are hideous looking and are less easily taken advantage of. How is a professor to get by?

Corrections (6/16/2017, 10:43 a.m.): A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Dafina-Lazarus Stewart as “she.” Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir.

The academy would do themselves a lot of good by not indulging this type of mental illness. No, it is not fun telling mentally unstable coeds that they are not a third sex, but being an adult is hard. It's why people outside the academy think of the college campus as playpen for weirdos.

The more we raise up kids without unstructured play time the more stressed out they become without top-down guided consistent structured activity. Most people lack the intellectual curiosity to read outside of their narrow field of interests. Most people with the intellectual curiosity lack the time. Summer vacations in academics should perhaps be renamed summer sabbaticals. People who don't have the intellectual curiosity to appreciate a long, most uninterrupted reprieve from the daily routines of teaching and committee hearings perhaps shouldn't be in academics. (All that being said, for me summers are the conference season and I always immensely enjoyed them -- like going off to chess tournaments in new cities when I was much younger.)

The conservative critique would hold less water if academia it wasn't so reliant on government subsidies. I don't mind a bunch of nuts indulging in their own silliness and neuroses, but fund that nonsense yourself. Alex rightly criticizes the DARE program, but the amount of $ our governments throw away on DARE is a pittance compared to what our governments throw away on higher ed.

Eventually, someone is going to dissolve the academies. Or at least most of them.

The higher ed bubble is going to burst...someday...

How about a longer vacation?

A simple solution would be to have universities run year round. Fall semester. Spring Semester. Summer Semester. There would be no summer lull. And degrees could be completed faster.

Universities are sheltered workshops for the gifted.

I hate to let anyone on, but if you have a bunch of otherwise useless people who have connections and money, and would make the welfare office staff miserable with their complaining and moaning, something had to be thought up.

Give then tenure (they can't leave) in a cloistered environment where their foolishness would fester and become apparent. Keeps them off the streets.

It seems pretty straightforward to me that people who are prone to anxiety or depression might struggle with an extended period of disconnection and lack of structure. So, what's the point of this post? That they shouldn't talk or write about that, because it's just too pathetic?

That sounds like a good start. There's a broader principle, that those who enjoy great social privilege should not complain publicly about their own personal inadequacies and failings.

Coddled by their safe-space in-group and ignorant of how legitimately unimportant their group's values are to other groups? That's not an issue w academics, that's an issue of being human!

Here's a little experiment: The next time your having a coffee break w a fellow contractor at a work site and (s)he starts bitching about the client, you say "don't be such a tender snowflake! Our job requires working with clients who will not have our own ease-of-functioning as their primary goal. Dealing with on-site inconveniences is a necessary skill for this job, otherwise you'd be working in the crew, not running the crew. You're so coddled for having these concerns!"

And now your next rhetorical move would be to argue: "yes everyone vents and gripes about the stresses of work, but only academics would take these gripes seriously and try to un-stoically avoid them."

To which I would respond: Again you are focusing on small differences rather than large similarities. First, I'm sure trade mags of all professions address ameliorating or mastering the stresses of the profession. That's a function of our wealthy and highly-literate society.

Second, taking what appear to be relatively minor stressors seriously is perhaps the key dynamic behind self-growth. Too much "ahh, life's just tough, so I'm gonna be tough and accept the toughness" perpetuates unconscious functioning (and self delusion: you don't recognize the countless ways that you are coddling yourself throughout the day in a very unstoic manner indeed).

In short: there's no analytic heft to the criticisms of the article; just tribalists tagging universal traits to a particular out group (academics).

Thank you for this comment. It really clarified a lot of the thoughts I had after reading this post. Have a great day.

What? She's complaining about free time (a luxury) and her inability to handle it like an unaware self indulgent ass. You'd have a point if she was complaining about tenured dinosaurs that keep her down or bad students and the comments made fun of her for that, but that has not occurred here. Bizarre comment.

Every profession and walk of life has its particular gripes, but some of them are so stupid that if you share them, people will laugh at you. Griping about having free time is like griping about having too much money. Of course there are stresses peculiar to each income level that those at a lower level don't know, but one has to be a pretty thoroughgoing narcissist to complain publicly about them.

Or to take another example, when I was (much) younger, I had to choose whether to go to Harvard or Yale. I do not think public complaints about how difficult that choice is would be met with anything other than ridicule in any environment. I made up my own mind quietly and privately, without sharing my difficulty.


You know when gripes are "stupid".

You know that people who publically share their "stupid gripes" are "narcissists".

And you seems to know that this Chronicle piece is an example of this: "narcissists" publically sharing their "stupid gripes".

You also know that the author and those quoted in the piece are complaining about "too much free time", which is as "stupid" as complaining about "too much money".

I, myself don't know a lot of (any of?) these things. I doubt that you know them either. (Unless the thinking displayed here is impenetrably circular).

For instance, is it possible that things can't be intrinsically, objectively stupid in themselves but only be perceived as stupid by a thinking person?

Is is possible that what appears stupid to you could be valuable to someone else in a way that you can appreciate without agreeing to? Like, you don't want mustard on your dog. That would be stupid for YOU to do, but you are sufficiently NOT a narcissist to not judge another as stupid for their own choice of condiments.

Similarly, you seemed to summarize the gist of the article as "griping". I reserve that label for those who are not solution-focused in their complaining. But this article was explicitly concerned about solutions, so I wouldn't call it griping. How would you know -objectively, beyond mere perception- that my definition, reasoning, and conclusion are objectively, beyond-mere-perception, wrong?

Well, apparently y81 is far more intelligent and wise than you. So learn from his post.

Every profession has its gripes. Some gripes are so absurd that they deserve ridicule. The gripe presented here about having a summer vacation falls into this category.

Academics have tons of more reasonable things to complain about. This just isn't one of them.

It's bizarre that you built up this lawyer-like case defending this silliness.

Not assuming that you're adressing me, but...

I'm inspired to defend this article because I perceive a very healthy cultural shift taking place: from what I would call "ego-based" self-perception to "social-based" self perception.

Understanding personal suffering as a "social fact" is conducive to productively looking for solutions.

Understanding personal suffering as an "ego fact" is conducive to shame and anxiety on top of the suffering that exists.

Yes, the traditional (by my upbringing) mode would be to say "summer sucks, but I'd be ridiculed for talking about it and it probably sucks because I'm fundamentally flawed." You can probably see why this is a more paralyzing mind-set, paradoxically stifling of one's will ("personal responsibility").

But if we say "this depression and anxiety is a social fact", we're aware that we are not at fault for the suffering (& know that others suffer this as well) AND we will continue to suffer unless the conditions that promote it are addressed. That's a healthier mode, I think.

working hours every day on the project that could decide her career, she said, is isolating.

First law of grad school -- anything is better than working on your thesis work.

Law 1A -- you should work on your thesis anyway.

"Mx. Stewart uses the pronouns ze, zim, and zir."
And, is an annoying creature.

Ze is actually an acceptable pronoun for a Prostetnic Vice-Admiral when detached from their fleet. You shouldn't knock it.

More importantly, ze is correct that not making full use of facilities is inefficient. I took more credits over the summer than a typical standard semester, and I thought almost all schools were doing this now. So they should change the standard timeline for a BS to two years, starting the summer after HS graduation, and move to year round schooling so a HS diploma can be earned by 8th grade. It would still be painful, but the additional lifetime earnings would at least help make up for it.

The one horrible thing about academia, however, is that you must suck up to the hideous creature who holds your tenure in their pudgy little hand. It's seven years of date rape horror, and it leaves a mark.

So to recap, the whining academics are from gender studies, anthropology (the stupid kind, not the physical kind), writing, education, and race and gender and sexuality,

I am shocked, shocked that it's nothing but bullshit artists.

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