The PhD student’s guide to summer

Lazy days? Not likely. In between reading, visiting the archives and doing fieldwork, you’ll barely have time to think

August 31, 2017
Swimmer and underwater weaver
Source: iStock montage

Summer is the best season for PhD students. It’s a chance to get a head start on writing, to memorise your dissertation elevator pitch and to begin preparing your job applications for the autumn. Actually, scratch that last one. There are no jobs left in academia. But here are some other things to cross off your summer checklist.

Letters of recommendation

Muster up the courage to ask for a letter of recommendation from a faculty member in your department you’ve made eye contact with at least twice.


Set your email to “auto-reply: out of office” to give people the false impression that you have an office. And although you’ll still be checking your email every three minutes or so, be sure to wait five days before responding so people assume that you are doing something important and have “limited access to the internet”.

Language study

Take a summer course in German so that you can claim proficiency in German on your CV. Determine which three German sources you are going to cite in your dissertation. This will convince your readers of your competency in adjusting the source language to German on Google Translate.

Reading lists

You’ll have some time to dive into that long list of monographs you’ve been meaning to read since you first started graduate school. Also, you’ll be able to start moving articles on your computer from the “Read Soon” folder to the “Read ASAP” folder.

Move back home

Move back in with your parents for the summer to save money on rent. Hang out with old high school friends who still live in suburban [insert any city]. Feel superior to them until you realise that you are making below minimum wage and living with your parents.

Archival research

Visit the archives and write a blog post romanticising the time you contracted scabies from all the dust. Be sure to remember the names of archivists you meet. It will be important to mention them in the acknowledgements section of your dissertation to prove that you actually did visit archives.

Make a splash

Pitch the results of your study to a journalist. Make sure that they focus only on the most impactful findings – ie, the one that took you 40 experiments to produce and is reproducible only if you do 17 and a half jumping jacks upside down while the experiment is in progress.


At long last, you’ll have an opportunity to conduct your fieldwork out in the field. Call it “fieldwork” only if it’s in an underdeveloped country (otherwise it’s “research”). Be sure to buy knee-length rubber boots. The field can get rather muddy during the summer monsoon season.


Finally, try to get your first article published. Your adviser probably told you to aim for the most prestigious journal in your field, but spare yourself the blow to your self-esteem and just submit directly to the highly selective International Journal of the Social Sciences, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics and Underwater Basket Weaving . It recently ranked among the top 10 most prestigious journals based in the western half of downtown Visakhapatnam, India.

Zachary J. Foster is a PhD candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University.

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