Summer is approaching!! While we are living in strange times, I’m sure many of you are hoping that you might be able to entertain some rest and respite over the coming season.

At the same time I’m sure many of you, like me, don’t actually stop to officially take any break during what is coined ‘summer break’. Indeed, for those of us working on dissertations, our work is a year-round activity.

However, perhaps some of you, like me, also try to incorporate some ‘lighter’ work during the Summer break period. I re-structure my schedule in these few months to try to ensure I am spending some time on ‘recreational learning’ to broaden my knowledge pool. Here are a few of my top tips to do so – and many of these will also apply to undergraduates in between years, and/or pondering whether to join us on the postgraduate journey.

  1. Tip number one: Bunny trails.

    Create a list of all those books and journal articles you considered peripheral to your research, but thought would be supremely interesting. I am always doing this anyway, as I find that the longer I study, the more interesting tangents I find. I try to spend at least some of my Summer period ‘relaxing’ with these resources. I say ‘relaxing’ because while I am learning and employing critical thinking skills, the pressure to produce a chapter for my PhD out of this reading is minimal…although, I have to admit, I’ve often been inspired by what I’ve read in this season.
  2. Tip number two: Broaden your horizons.

    Learn about a different topic. For me, as a historian, this takes the form of delving into periods of history outside of my own 18th – 19th century cloister. I usually do this in one of two ways:

    First: by trying to find some ‘public history’ works (which are reliable, preferably those written by academics) which can easily introduce me to the basics of new time periods and topics. This might also be looking at blogs written by academics in my field, but catering to the ‘general public’. I ensure I have a list of these handy when I am in the mood to dip into such reading.

    Secondly: I LOVE to dip into online learning – whether this be in the form of MOOCs or, my favourite provider: The Great Courses. If you haven’t heard of this latter source before, I highly recommend checking them out. You can find university-level courses on just about any topic, and they are often available on Audible too.
  3. Tip number three: Read Fiction.

    I know, this might not seem to be, immediately, sensible…
    especially if your topic is just about as far removed from English/Literature as you can get. However, studies have demonstrated the impact fiction can have on empathy, mindfulness, and mental health. I like to try to find novels which are tangentially related to the topics I am studying…

    For instance, I was quite interested, recently, in perceptions of religious emotions amongst Catholic believers (which has tangential relevance to my research) and I read The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – a scintillating story and exemplary insight into Catholic emotions in the early 20C.

    If your research mainly concerns scientific study with human subjects – you might like to delve into the likes of Flowers for Algernon about a man who, in an experiment, shifts from a painfully low IQ to an incomparably high one… only to slowly, and consciously, return to his former state.

    Those interested in mathematics may, for instance, find solace in Flatland – a short novel taking place in a two-dimensional world wherein one protagonist discovers the third dimension.

So there are my top tips to keep yourself going over the Summer, whilst simulanteously (slightly) reducing the weight of your workload.

What are your top tips of this nature? Do share them below in the comments!