You must be on your holidays now? I’m confronted with this question/accusation every time I go shopping in my village these days. Almost everyone I know assumes that lecturers merely teach and the summer holidays are ours to enjoy at our leisure.
I never know how to correct this misapprehension. Usually, I just nod amiably – after all, the main thing is that I have a job I really enjoy doing. However, it worries me that there is such widespread misunderstanding of academia. Occasionally, I try to explain that ‘holiday-time’ is in fact the only time I get to do any research. However, I usually get the feeling the questioner either doesn’t believe me or thinks I’m a fool for not putting our generous holidays to good use.
And the official holidays are generous, there’s no question. In the Institutes of Technology, staff do not have to report formally for work from June 20th to September 1st. It sounds great, doesn’t it? But for those engaged in research at any level (and it’s very difficult to get a job teaching to degree or master’s level if you are not engaged in some sort of research), this is the only time such work gets done.
In my case, I used to head back to my alma mater Trinity College as soon as term ended, doing experimental work in the magnetic resonance lab. These days, I’m more involved in writing science. This summer, I’m working on a book on cosmology, aimed at a popular audience. I started it last summer at Harvard and have been tipping away whenever I can during a very busy semester. Now I have a good opportunity to finish. I don’t think of this as a chore; like most academics, I see this sort of work as an important part of my job and it’s very satisfying. I really like working in the college over the summer months, it’s a very nice environment of quiet academic activity.
I also have two conferences in August and next month I’m giving a public talk on Irish astronomy and the big bang. So it’ll be a busy summer, which doesn’t bother me in the slightest as long as I get away for the odd weekend. As for travel, I’m coming round to the view that most countries are simply too hot for me in the summer and I like the variability of Irish weather. I’ll take a few weekends in the west coast of Ireland, playing tunes in the pubs at night and surfing during the day, that’ll do nicely…
It’s a tough life – Ed
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