Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Break 2012

It is mid-March, and I feel compelled to write something about Spring Break. Last year, I was impressed to see that more than 80% of professors who responded to my online poll reported that they were working during the Spring Break week, most on campus (and happily so). The results were very similar for postdocs, although (not surprising) a greater % of postdocs stay on campus (postdocs don't really get Spring Break anyway because every week is Spring Break for postdocs?!). The numbers were similar for grad students working over the break, most of whom also stay on campus.

One interesting result from the poll, keeping in mind the small numbers of participants involved of course, is that fewer professors who stay on campus to work are unhappy about it, as compared to the % of happy working-on-campus grad students. Why is that, do you think?

Possibilities to explain why more professors are happier (as compared to grad students) to work during Spring Break:

- Professors have lower expectations re. happiness. We are just happy for a break, any break, and even if we have to work during the break week, it's great to have that week to get caught up and prepare for the rest of the academic year. It's not as if most of us can go anywhere during the break week anyway.

- By the time you get to be a professor, you have already displayed a dangerously high level of affection for the campus environment; why would you want to go anywhere else?

- It's nice being on a quiet, emptier-than-usual campus. Lines are shorter at your favorite caffeine-supplier. This can equally apply to grad students, of course, but one hypothesis is that this is more important to professor (see hypothesis #1 about reduced expectations re. happiness).

- Grad students can still remember what it was like to have a real Spring Break, and aren't far enough along yet on the academic spectrum to appreciate staying on campus. Yes, I know that many undergrads don't go anywhere for Spring Break, but chances are that undergrads don't spend the entire week on academic pursuits; grad students are still too close to these youthful experiences.

I can think of a few more possibilities, but this is your assignment for Spring Break: come up with some more creative reasons to explain the data.


26 comments:

Alex said...

My favorite caffeine supplier has shorter lines but also shorter hours, so not clear if that's a net positive.

Serious answer:
I like the fact that I can go to my office and work on whatever interests me (just like a real grown-up scholar!) without having something that must be done by the following day. (This arrangement breaks down on the last Sunday, of course...)

Still sort of serious answer:
Since we have an agriculture school, I can go for a walk on campus and watch the sheep and goats and cows and horses play in the fields. It appeals to my inner 5 year old.

Anonymous said...

From my experience, grad students stay on campus during break for one of two reasons:

1. They're too poor to fly home and see their families, or too poor to take a real vacation.

2. Their advisors expect them to work over Spring Break (read: Spring Break is for undergrads). Research doesn't stop just because class isn't in session!

Anonymous said...

I want to say something along the lines of anonymous at 12:42 :

Self-determination. Once you are at professor stage, you have the framework / conditions to determine your own time management (to a greater extent, not entirely - as service requirements or whatever it is of being a professor that irks said professor counts as 'taking away from the time spent what I REALLY want to be doing' - still needs to be taken into account). As a post-doc, you might feel that other factors are over-determining your time... Does that make sense?

Klaas said...

I am happily looking forward to the Easter holiday because then I finally have time to count all the grant money I have earned recently.

fubarator said...

I can park anywhere I want, at any time, during Spring Break

Anonymous said...

I think Anon at 12:42 and Anon at 3:42 nailed it.

Grad students: have limited options and have expectations placed on them externally. They feel they have to work over break because their future is very uncertain and they need to do as much as they can whenever they can. Working on a dissertation over break is not very different from working on it during the rest of the year, so it's not really any sort of break. If TAing, the students often have grading over spring break, so there's not really a break from that.

Professors: have job security and their expectations are largely internal. Spring break gives a respite from teaching classes, faculty meetings, and other service, so that spring break *really is* is a break from something. Professors also have the real *option* of doing something else if they want to, because they have a reasonable income. So the choice to stay and work is a real (pleasurable) choice.

It's all about context.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a student, I'm a professor. It's a job. My job doesn't give me a spring break. My friends with non-academic jobs don't get a spring break. It hasn't occurred to me to be irritated by this. The bonus is that I do not have classes to teach or seminars to attend for a week, so yeah, I'm content with not having the week off.

I didn't take the week off as a graduate student of postdoc either, but I was at medical schools for those years, not an undergrad campus. None of us took a spring break.

Willy said...

Here's a theory:

Profs are happy to be on campus during Spring Break because they have no classes, and get to spend a week at the bench, enjoying the thrill of research. Normally at this time of year they are buried under service and teaching, so it is a refreshing change to focus only on research.

Grad students are unhappy to be on campus, because advisers are in the lab, looking over their shoulders, or possibly even getting underfoot?

In all seriousness though, I think grad students have a hard time making the transition from the years in undergrad when they had the week off. It takes a while to adjust your expectations. I'm a postdoc, and I was pretty happy to be on campus during Spring Break with shorter coffee lines and easy-to-find parking. My school actually kicks all the undergrads out of the dorms during the break, so it's a pretty quiet week on campus.

upper-year graduate student said...

It's because even though upper-year graduate students in the sciences are as untethered from the academic calendar as postdocs, the rest of the world doesn't understand this. Thus everyone asks you if you're on spring break or if you're leaving for spring break, since you're a "student". Thus you're constantly reminded of it, while I doubt professors or postdocs get asked frequently in March whether they'll be going anywhere fun for spring break.

Anonymous said...

I am neither a professor nor a grad student, but a lab tech at a major research university, and I fall into the "happy and working" category. Campus is empty and everything is less stressful. Same reason I love the summer!

As to why professors are generally happier than grad students to be working on spring break... For many grad students, getting a Ph.D. is just another "hoop to jump through" before doing what they really want to do for a career. I have been there. Professors may not have attained all their career goals yet, but I would assume that a greater percentage are in the line of work they desire, so they would be happier.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate student, I think the last reason (we can remember what Spring Break is like) is the biggest reason. I am still happy to work during the week and enjoy the emptier campus, but it can be a little difficult to find motivation when similarly aged friends, who are either still in undergrad, or in other educational programs that do get a break, are posting Facebook statuses and pictures about their fun Spring Break trips. Additionally, since most of society thinks "graduate students" are the same as undergraduate students, family and friends are always asking what my plans are for the break, and seem shocked I don't get a break even when I explain that being a graduate student is a job.

Even so, I am still happy to stay at work and wait for a weekend when the beaches are less crowded to get away :)

Anonymous said...

Some possibilities

1. lack of choice (as mentioned by others) some grad students are staying because they have to not because they want to

2. For grad students not TA'ing or taking many classes it could be envy as in everybody else gets a break why not me

3. Increased "adult" supervision, the PI has more time to come to the lab and actually see what they're doing when they're "working"

Anonymous said...

going to Intl. Conf. with family during break!!! can't wait! does it count as work if my student is presenting? ;) and only 3 meetings for me!

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student and I would be unhappy to have to stay on campus- I usually work, but I do so from elsewhere and use the time to visit family....

Anonymous said...

Professors often have their own offices, while grad students are four to a room. Spring break isn't noticeably quieter for grad students.

Anonymous said...

+1 for the already-pointed out answer. When you already have a job, career, income, certainty, and (some degree of ) choice, work is a lot more the pleasure that it should be for all of us in academia.

Yes, early-stage professors may have less certainty and choice but still, they're better off than grad students or that panic-stricken overexploited creature, the (senior) postdoc.

what, me bitter? naaaah.

Anonymous said...

Some people are taking this topic very seriously. Maybe they need a break...?

It's true that being a professor is a JOB, but most of us can take Spring Break week off if we feel that we can (that is, it is up to us whether we can take the time off or not). Or maybe not. I am always surprised to find out that some people need permission of their chair to leave campus during the term etc. So I guess I should say that it is up to me whether I take SB week off or not. Most years I either can't or don't want to, but some years I do. I bring work with me, but I go somewhere and recharge a bit.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

This year, for Spring Break (which is a couple of weeks from now), I'm actually taking a real vacation. To a place with no archives of interest to me.

It feels very weird.

Anonymous said...

I am a "professor" -- with "visiting assistant" prepended -- that means no job security, looming unemployment in fact, plus much of the shit that new professors need to deal with -- and I am THRILLED by spring break! I won't actually be on my campus (long commute) so I'll go to another nearby campus. Why am I THRILLED? Break from grading, taking care of the perceived and real needs of students at my SLAC, endless meetings.... I just get to do RESEARCH on the stuff I like most!!!!! It is totally vacation!

As a grad student I spent lots of time on research. It was being measured and evaluated. Now no-one cares about my research in some sense, as I've already failed in the eyes of most of the academy, and so I can do cool stuff for pure joy instead.

Jen said...

I can't remember the last time I took a real "spring break". I teach in a SLAC on the quarter system, and spring break marks the end of winter quarter and start of spring quarter. I usually spend my spring breaks grading winter quarter finals and finalizing syllabi, labs and lesson plans for spring quarter classes. One week is not long enough!

HennaHonu said...

I think the answer is simple. Grad students are expected/required to stay on campus during spring break, whereas professor choose to do so.

Anonymous said...

This post makes me think I should jump ship ASAP
http://www.torontostandard.com/business/why-being-a-scientist-isnt-fun-anymore

Anonymous said...

Professors are their own boss so they make the choice to stay on campus or not. Grad students and postdocs don't have as much choice since they are lower on the totem pole and have less power so they are not as happy.

Anonymous said...

Was that last comment written by a grad student, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Since I started working with undergrads as a postdoc, I have viewed spring break as a chance to get big, time-consuming experiments done. However, the past couple of years I have left campus (and all of my grading) behind so that I could focus on writing for a week, which has been really important. Also, our SLAC is in the middle of nowhere, and I try to get away to a more interesting place at every available opportunity. So although I had a "working" break, I would have been unhappy if I'd had to stay on campus.

Anonymous said...

I loved the breaks (Fall, Winter, Spring, and, of course, those three months of Summer) when I was a grad student. Seminars were suspended, the campus cleared out, I could get sh*t done...heavenly. But I also go into the habit of viewing breaks as a chance to get benchwork done while I was an undergrad so maybe the sense of entitlement just wasn't there for me. The only time I disliked breaks was when I was trying to herd cats/put together a committee meeting. For some reason, the professors won't willingly convene for something as trivial as a committee meeting or defense during a break. One of my classmates had to defend during Winter Break and her advisor had to strong arm her committee into doing it. Heck, I defended while class was still in session and my advisor had to send a little love note to my committee telling them to stop giving me the run-around.

As a post-doc, I still love break. In fact, since I no longer have a thesis committee to fight with, I love them all the more.