Are professors off during the summer?

Everyday Tips asks:  “Aren’t you off during the summer? I would think you could have a ton of fun!”

Off the payroll– YES.  Not working?  HAHAHAAHAHA

We actually get this question a lot from non-academics.  One of us is often asked why she puts her child in preschool over the summer since neither parent is working.

Contrary to common misconception, the primary part of a university professor’s job is not teaching or doing administration (though many of us do a bang-up job of both)… it’s producing research.  (N.B.:  This is different at some small liberal arts colleges, and at community colleges.  But both of us are at universities.)  Here’s a great explanation of what one professor did all week.

Summer is the time when we can do real work because there aren’t students stopping by every 15 minutes, and there aren’t many committee meetings about service.   We get a little work done during the school year and a lot done during summer.  In the summer we can generally put a full 8 hours in and our brains are full for the day.  During the school year we probably do work more hours, but that’s because we work a lot more than full-time to keep up with classes and service and our professional obligations.  True, we get more choice about when and where to work, but we have to pay for that by working more hours for crappy money.

Being able to do research work in the summer also means that we can do fulfilling work with uninterrupted time for thinking.  During the school year it is hard to not have one’s thoughts scattered.  Neither one of us gets that much fulfillment from teaching, though #1 does more so than #2.*  We got PhDs so that we could research the things that interest us, not so that we could answer a million whiny emails from students who want exceptions to the rules.  Having a break from that is essential to our mental health.  It’s worth pointing out that this “real work” of research and writing is what gets us tenure.  Teaching does not get us tenure.  We are expected to be adequate in teaching and outstanding in research, which is why we have to guard against the time-suck of teaching.

Summer is also for conferences.  One reason one of us is not so big on travel is because there is SO MUCH travel for work.  She even has favorite places she visits in Boston and DC because she goes those places 1-3 times a year, usually in July and August.  Conferences are fun, but they’re definitely not vacation.  (Note:  times vary by discipline and even sub-discipline.  Most of #2’s conferences are in November or April.)

This educational post has been sent to you by Grumpy Rumblings, who remind you that they are still untenured and therefore work all the time.

Do you get your summers off?

*One of #1’s back up careers is to teach either 4th grade or high school math.  She is AWESOME at teaching math


25 Responses to “Are professors off during the summer?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Thanks for shattering my romantic dream of your lifestyle.

    Working without being paid would make me a little bitter. It’s almost like being in school, ick.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, we could choose to be paid over 12 months instead of 9. (Actually, I believe #2 is)… but I’d rather get all 9 months of salary first so I’m the one earning interest. In grad school I was only paid 2 or 3x per year, and was able to game high cd rates to get a few extra hundred dollars (which is a lot when your annual salary is 18K).

      9 month salaries mean we’re also allowed to apply for grants to try to get the other 3 months paid, which would be nice…

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    I inspired a post!!!

  3. Perpetua Says:

    I would like to add as well that many secondary teachers do not really get the summers “off” either.

    But yeah – summers off! hahaha! Yes, it’s true there’s a lot of flexibility of what we do with our time/ where we do it, and IMO that’s the main perk of being an academic. I will take a couple of weeks of pure vacation this summer (at least 2, maybe 3). At the same time, I have 2 articles to write, grants to apply for, fall classes to organize (that’s right folks, they don’t create themselves!), archival research to conduct, etc etc. Last summer, I was frantically copyediting a ms just a couple of weeks after giving birth.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, lots of kinds of teachers don’t get the time “off” that it appears they do! I have most of those same things to do this summer (no archives, but travel; no giving birth, but writing, etc.).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, I get that comment about daycare mostly from K-12 teachers in my neighborhood. Obviously whatever they’re doing in the summer around here is consistent with also having the kids at home full-time. (I know that’s not true all places– some places teach year round and first and second year teachers or those changing grades/classes need more prep time, and some K-12 teachers do summer programs for extra money etc.)

      Oooh ooh, I can do the academics and childbirth thing. I was sending a paper out for comments from a friend and starting a 3 day regression in the time between my water broke at 5am and when the contractions started. When I got back from the hospital the regression had completed (it had crashed, but thankfully AFTER producing the output I needed)… and I sent it back to the editor with revisions complete. Three weeks after birth I was back in the classroom, but only that late because a freak snowstorm canceled class the third week so I didn’t have to go back week 3. (No, FMLA only covers you if you’ve been working a full year.)

  4. MutantSupermodel Says:

    And to think my parents are pushing me to get my PhD for research and professorship possibilities. I’m sending them your post with a big fat I TOLD YOU SO. Thanks! :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ha! Glad to be of service.

      Not to mention all that time spent on low (if any) wages actually getting a degree. And public school teachers in union states get paid more than professors teaching the same subject…

  5. Anthea Says:

    Ahhhh thank you for this post….someone had to say something. I’m so tired of hearing people on news reports that academics and teachers shouldn’t be complaining about their salaries etc because they get the ‘summer off’. Sadly, too many misinformed people are in positions of power.

  6. Rumpus Says:

    Being a tenure track professor during the school year feels a lot like juggling at the edge of one’s ability…always reaching, eyes tracking frantically, just hoping that the next ball/club hits your hand instead of your head. During the summer it feels like being a dragster: go now, go fast, do not waver.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a great analogy. Today was like juggling a bunch of balls today with people throwing more into the mix while I was trying to juggle…

      A couple of them hit me on my head.

      I sure hope that job market candidate wasn’t in earshot when I yelled at that student for cheating… (I lost my cool… I try not to do that. But today was special.)

  7. Funny about Money Says:


    When I was teaching full-time, my summers were usually consumed by course prep and demands that I do other kinds of unpaid labor for the university. One of my colleagues got so fed up with it that she informed people she was spending the entire summer out of town where there was no phone and no computer connection. This, as it develops, was disinformation…but she was serious about not answering the phone and not responding to the e-mail blitzes.

    phthtphttthhh! Then there was my dean, who one day remarked that she thought people had their nerve to regard the summer as their own time, because our nine-month contracts are not ACTUALLY nine-month contracts–they’re really twelve-month jobs.

    Say what, Your Deanship?

    Says she, the nine-month contract was a ruse perpetrated upon our state’s moron legislators, who would never allow the university to pay faculty for the actual twelve months we work, because everyone knows teachers only work during the academic year.


  8. I Ain’t Workin’ Saturday! | Funny about Money Says:

    […] and Maggie at Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured describe in detail what goes on during those wonderful three-month “vacations” people think university and K-12 faculty get to enjoy. Heeeee! You, too, can become a teacher and […]

  9. Revanche Says:

    For all those folks who kept nagging me about my PhD cause why not? IN YOUR FACE. THIS IS WHY NOT. (The “in your face” is totally inappropriately gratuitous because no one is winning here.)

    I mean, it’s not like I don’t pretty much work 12-14 hour days with no time off and all, it’s just that I don’t also have to hear the misconceptions. Har.

    My friend does like to remind me that as a HS teacher he does get summers off if he’s chosen not to teach summer school but he’s still living a different level of precariousness at which he’s in constant danger of being pinkslipped so really, being an instructor at any level is just nearly totally thankless.

    May I take a moment to say that’s utterly ridiculous?

    Hm.. I lost my train of thought. Anyway, amen to the working too much for too little return. *tsk*

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m willing to bet you get paid better than we do too.

      My parents occasionally suggest that my sister get an MS or JD or something (she had one time entertained the idea of getting a JD in patent law)… but she already makes a ton more than I do despite being much younger and only with a BS. And she likes her job most of the time. What would be the point?

  10. Teaching Carnival 4.8 - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education Says:

    […] Nicole and Maggie at Grumpy Thoughts of the Untenured answer once and for all: Do professors have summers off? The answer is yes and no. […]

  11. 2012 in review « Grumpy rumblings of the half-tenured Says:

    […] Are professors off during the summer? 18 comments March […]

  12. We answer your googled questions | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] A:  Sleep (not so much).  Teach (not me!).  Write and do research (soooo much).  Travel (lots of conferences).  Write and do research.  Supervise research assistants (if we’re lucky).  Write… We’re not off. […]

  13. Links we’ve loved and not lost | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] On reviewing articles.  How words mean things.  Don’t email academics in July, we’re not getting paid. […]

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