It’s December 23rd, grades are in, my daughter is in daycare, Christmas shopping still needs to be done, and I’m working on a review for a journal. What’s wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be enjoying the break between semesters? Why do I feel like the “break” is really code for “time to get caught up on all of the things that slipped between the cracks at the end of fall semester”? Am I the only one that feels this way? Are the rest of you reading this post by a crackling fire after making snowpeople with your families? Or are you reading this post in the lab while waiting for the centrifuge to do its thing?

Curious minds want to know. And procrastinating minds write surveys to find out! Here’s a survey for teaching faculty, graduate students, and post-docs, asking that important question: “What do you do with the break between fall and spring semesters?” (Note the hemispherically general form of the question).
Click Here to take survey

I know the survey will be limited to the first 100 participants, so feel free to discuss in the comments too. Results will be posted…sometime before the start of my spring semester.


  1. #1 squawky
    December 23, 2008

    That was a fun survey – and a good reason to procrastinate further my final grades and holiday prep (at least the shopping is done).

    I wish I could explain the holiday break to family, though – I’ve already gotten the “Finals are over on Thursday? Just do your grading over the weekend and you’ll be finished!” comment (nevermind the conference abstract and the other details that need to be done over the weekend), and I’m not quite ready for “You’re so lucky, you get a month off… why are you working?”.

  2. #2 Disgruntled Julie
    December 23, 2008

    I work the majority of the break (we certainly would not be permitted to take off the full amount of time based on the break between end of exams/start of classes once we are done with classes and in the lab full time), but take off a few days to travel to visit both my family and my in-law family. This year, I’ll be taking off from the 25-29th, and in the lab the rest of the time — including the scheduled official holidays (i.e., I’ll be working bundled up in the lab because the heat for the building will be off).

    But, coming back, I always feel MORE stressed and more in need of a vacation, because family time is far from relaxing and enjoyable.

  3. #3 Zen Faulkes
    December 23, 2008

    You are emphatically not the only one who feels this way. I’m in my office prepping for a conference in early January, looking at a sole source justification I’m supposed to write, a manuscript, and just remembered an email I have to send to a colleague about her visit int spring semester…

    Although some of those be self-inflicted wounds, a few significant ones are not. I’m in biology, where it’s often impossible to spend substantial time away from uni during “breaks,” because of animal care issues. Heck, even plants don’t water themselves…

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    December 23, 2008

    Be interesting to check your faculty handbook as to what your job responsibilities are over break. You may find that you are on assignment anytime the university is open, break or not.

  5. #5 ecogeofemme
    December 23, 2008

    I typically take the time mostly off. I’ll bring a pile of work with me on my visit to my hometown with great intentions and then probably not do any of it. I will feel both refreshed and guilty when I return to work.

    This year, I might be able to submit the paper that will not end and there’s an eensy weensy chance I might get to meet a potential post doc mentor. If it looks like that might work out, I’ll spend some time reading his papers.

    Basically, I don’t want to work over break. I know that if I don’t, I’ll come back feeling great and really motivated. But I also feel like a Bad Scientist for not being more passionate and compelled to cuddle with my science every day. It’s tough.

  6. #6 Tex
    December 23, 2008

    Let’s see. Co-parent two children. Finish writing a paper. Start writing a proposal. Read and critique four grad student progress reports (semi-annual), helps with writing dissertation in the long run. Co-parent two children. Visit the out-laws, they’re not so bad, really. Put together application for department head position for which I’ve been nominated.

    I’ll be glad to get back from the break through.


  7. #7 cfcasper
    December 23, 2008

    I’m in the humanities, rather than science, but I’ll be at a conference between Dec. 25 and 31. No, that’s not a typo. (It actually starts on the 27th, but I need to be there by then and it was too expensive to fly on the 26th.)

  8. #8 Laura
    December 23, 2008

    I’m a science grad student. I have about 5 weeks off between my last exam of fall semester and my first class of spring semester. I’m taking 2 weeks to visit my family and my SO’s family for the holidays, then starting a lab rotation a few weeks before spring classes resume so that I’ll be ahead of the game. I’ve got two short assignments to work on over the break (an article for my science writing seminar and a reading assignment for my spring lecture-based course) plus some self-assigned papers to read before starting the rotation. And, I’m working on a new science-themed blog.

  9. #9 Brigindo
    December 23, 2008

    We have 5 weeks between end of exams and start of new classes but the week following exams is action-packed with meetings. This week it has finally slowed down and I’m working part days. I’ll do this through our university’s official closing (week between Christmas and New Years) and then I’ll be working full time again. I don’t think of it as a break or a vacation, I think of it as a break from teaching. It feels relaxing to have whole days to think of nothing but my research. Unfortunately I do have to fit some class prep in there as well but that can be inspiring in small doses.

    The absence of a true break was harder when my son was young and at home and I was still in school myself. Papers, exams and my job would keep me going full-steam until the 3rd week in December and then I had 1 week to make the magic happen. Now I have time but no magic.

  10. #10 FAW
    December 23, 2008

    ecogeofemme, that’s exactly how I feel! Except that the hometown visit will be rather short, and the rest of the time will be spent on tidying up the house, which is very very necessary and on which I’ve caved for once and actually asked for help from outside.
    The only thing I want to do is look over a research proposal for a graduation project and read two papers about means-end theory to understand the background of the student better.
    I took the survey, and officially there’s no time off between the three weeks scheduled for exams and the start of the new semester bar a weekend. However, I didn’t teach in the fall semester (only supervised). One minor thing that should come in soon though is the handbook we want to use. And write assignments, and make tutorinstructions and… they will all have to wait until I get back from my masked ball first saturday of january.

  11. #11 Girl Technologist
    December 23, 2008

    As a graduate student, we get 3 weeks off for the semester break. I’m not supposed to have official duties (not really paid for them) but the last two holiday breaks have always included at least a week’s worth of time I have be on campus either prepping for the spring semester, or prepping for conference presentations in January…

    I tend to procrastinate a lot, and never start the spring semester feeling rested and ready to be productive.

  12. #12 Kim
    December 23, 2008

    School has nearly the same break that we have, so… no working break for me. I’m “on vacation,” which means that I’m parenting full-time.

    This is one of the big benefits of having stepped way, way back from the cutting edge. My department is empty once students disappear. (I don’t know how many of the rest of them are re-designing classes over break, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m doing at least as much as the rest of the crew.) The downside, of course, is that I’ve given up any dreams I once had of contributing anything major to my discipline.

  13. #13 lylebot
    December 23, 2008

    I have 7 weeks between the last exam and the start of spring semester classes. At the end of those seven weeks are several important (i.e. tenure-case-making) paper submission deadlines, so this is when the bulk of my research happens. It’s definitely not a break.

  14. #14 goat mama
    December 24, 2008

    I’m snowed in!!! After spending the last month working like crazy, I returned from AGU ready to keep cranking ’round the clock. Turns out, we got >2 ft of snow, plus 1″ of freezing rain, the office has been closed for a week & we can’t leave the house except on skis or foot. We’ve made friends with new neighbors, skied through the farm fields, slept in & cooked a lot. It took being separated from my files & hard drives to take a much needed break. Maybe Sciencewoman should pray for a blizzard?

  15. #15 Addy N.
    December 24, 2008

    I ALWAYS lament our short breaks here at Small College Town U. We have three weeks between Fall and Spring semesters- two of which D is out of school, too. This makes it VERY difficult to do anything productive, unless we ignore her (let her keep herself busy), or just work in the evenings or get up super early. I usually don’t do much over Xmas break. And I really need to this year- H and I have a joint paper to work on, I need to write part of another collaborative paper, work on a proposal revision, review a ms, finish up some touches on another paper, plan my courses for Spring (one class I changed books- doh!). I’m not even going to try today or tomorrow, but Friday I should get something done. It’s quite a dilemma…

  16. #16 Jenn
    December 25, 2008

    I’m not working in a university setting, so since there are no official exam dates or semester starts, it’s just a full time employment…. we get the 24, 25, 26, 31, Jan 1 and 6 as official holidays. All other non-weekend days I’m in the lab (and probably also on the 26th at least to take care of things that just can’t go that long without attention…). Having said that though, MOST people are here from abroad (myself included) and use the holidays to travel home…. we consume from our allowed paid holiday/vacation days and most are gone from the 19-20th to the 6th/7th of January, so nearly 3 weeks!

  17. #17 saxifraga
    December 31, 2008

    I have taken two weeks off (Dec. 22nd-Jan 4th)to visit family in my and husband’s home countries. I put in some very long days in December to be able to wrap up grading, a manuscript revision and class related admin before leaving and haven’t brought any work with me. I don’t have time off in summer, because I’m in the field and teaching field courses, and I need this annual break in order to be productive for the rest of the year. We also spend a lot of time travelling between family members during the break, so it isn’t realistic to get a lot done. I would probably have done some work if we had spent the break at home, though, but the uni is closed between Christmas and New Years and I wouldn’t have had access to my office.

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