The academic year is a highly intense period, fluctuations of deadline seasons often mean you are living from assignment to assignment. For many students, this leads to a culmination of long stints on technology partnered with lengthy days to ensure all their work is complete. However, when you hit submit on that last essay or you finish that last exam, the build-up of stress is instantly released and the huge weight of deadlines floats away until next year.
Yet, the question still hangs when everything is completed, the question of this expanse of time now presented to you, the question of the optimal way to spend the summer break. It can be a difficult conundrum. When your life becomes so consumed by deadlines for months, having this blank space in your calendar is a complete change of pace. The options seem endless: internships, travelling, part-time work, relaxation – all with their own benefits. It can be difficult to decipher the best way to spend this time. I asked the students of Warwick how they choose to spend their summer, and using these responses began to uncover if there is a right answer.
Taking the time to explore areas of research that have not been explicitly relevant to term-time modules is a great way to take advantage of all the resources you have as a university student
While summer is the ideal time to do the things you simply didn’t have time for in the academic year, this doesn’t mean you have to stop studying. Taking the time to explore areas of research that have not been explicitly relevant to term-time modules is a great way to take advantage of all the resources you have as a university student. It offers a great balance between taking your foot off the pedal and allowing yourself to recharge, whilst keeping your brain active. A few respondents highlighted that summer was the time for working on dissertations, as being able to focus on such a huge project without other modules as a distraction can be an ideal way to get ahead.
However, giving yourself the opportunity to explore other areas of interest may actually offer guidance in shaping your dissertation topic. You spend a huge amount of your time with your dissertation, such that it is vital you research a topic of interest. Picking that topic is a difficult task, and allowing yourself the summer to take your time with this decision and reading around what interests you takes a huge weight off your shoulders when term rolls around. However, this is not to say those who have graduated can’t spend their summer studying, while the resources are there to be utilised. One respondent outlined “I’m doing a research project (and) looking into masters degrees”. Using your summer to study is beneficial for those going into further study, as it supports job applications and most importantly allows you to be productive in a highly personalised manner.
A number of respondents outlined that their summer was filled up by internships, gaining experience for future jobs. Summer internships are extremely popular, and can help clarify what career you may want to go into. One respondent expressed they are “doing two internships (to hopefully get a grad job in the creative industries)”, so the skills and experiences they receive will be invaluable. Yet, the majority of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their internships, with one respondent explaining they were “doing an unpaid internship, not recommended for sure”. Internships can be difficult to navigate and it is a situation where you simply don’t know what the environment will be until you get there.
However, if you do have a negative experience it should not be seen as wasted time, all experience is valuable experience
As shown by student responses, some people will have really positive experiences during their internship and therefore be in a good headspace leading into a new academic year or graduate employment. Alternatively, some individuals could have a negative internship experience which could then lead to questions around the future and a pessimistic mindset going forward. A positive experience may be found by doing research around potential internship companies as well as asking fellow students who have had a good experience.
However, if you do have a negative experience it should not be seen as wasted time, as all experience is valuable experience. The takeaways should come in the form of exploring what made the experience not meet your expectations and using this to shape how you find future employment opportunities. This can arise in the form of the job role itself, such as the manner of the work you were doing, or may take the form of the actual workplace environment, when you might not enjoy working in a big team or a long commute into work. An internship, regardless of how successful you may view it personally, offers priceless information in demystifying future opportunities and is definitely a beneficial way to spend the summer.
There is always the option to use the summer break simply as the name suggests, to have a break. Often this is interchanged with stating that someone is simply spending their summer ‘doing nothing’, respondents even claimed they were “rotting in bed” and “enjoying the unemployed lifestyle”, but in fact taking the time off to recharge comes with benefits, and can be the best way to fully prepare yourself for the next academic year or the world of work.
The biggest danger in continuing studying or working through the break is the possibility of burnout, complete physical and emotional exhaustion. With a whole year of intense academic work, using your summer to continue working could lead to overworking yourself and this is where burnout begins to take form. This can not only affect your ability to work, but also has an emotional burden leading to difficulties in other aspects of your life, such as sleep and appetite. Therefore, the needed removal of pressure that the summer break provides is replaced by negativity which consequently trickles into the Autumn Term. This is the reason for taking a step back in the summer and allowing yourself to recover so you are mentally and physically prepared for your next step.
From visiting food markets to travelling with family to playing video games, it becomes clear that relaxation is much more difficult to generalise than some of the other potential ways to spend your summer
Relaxation comes in different forms, and this was echoed by the vast array of responses that fell into this category. From visiting “good food markets” to “travelling with family” to “playing video games”, it becomes clear that relaxation is much more difficult to generalise than some of the other potential ways to spend your summer. This means it is much easier to adapt your summer if you allow yourself to take a break, even if it is not for the whole summer period. Spending one day a week doing something for yourself, something that perhaps during term time fell to the bottom of the priority list, will allow yourself to recuperate some energy. There is no reason to feel guilty about doing so, as the vast majority of respondents are doing the same. However, only you can figure out how to spend this downtime, there is no magic formula on how to relax, it is extremely personal and that is what makes it so enjoyable.
The risk of burnout is too big to ignore, you need to set yourself as best you can for the fresh start September brings. If you personally know you cope well with working and believe that taking a break will mean it is indeed harder to get back into a workflow, then using your summer to work can be beneficial. However, you shouldn’t feel guilty for spending time with family and doing the things that may have been pushed to the sidelines during the academic year. I will be spending my summer doing a mixture of the two, with balance providing the best solution for my personal needs: partnering my Undergraduate Research Project with music festival season. Yet, it is a different combination that works for each individual and it’s okay to spend time trying to find that combination. Hey, if you’re really stuck on what to do you could always write for the Boar!