Monday, 30 May 2011

Philosophers on Breaks

The semester will eventually draw to an end for your academic philosopher. Now that the papers, classes, grading, and office hours are done, your philosopher will have several full months of freedom. Philosophers generally handle this freedom in several ways.

1. Feeling Guilty

Yes, your philosopher does finally have a little freedom and what do they do? Sit around every day feeling guilty because they are not doing enough work.

Some philosophers handle this guilt by trying to drink a lot and hang out with other free philosophers; some just dink around, powerless to come up with anything to do because whatever they decide to work on must be important enough to work on all summer, which means that they will never decide on anything; or some commit themselves to impossibly large projects, which makes them feel even more guilty when they cannot accomplish all of them.

2. Start Reading Groups

Philosophers love reading groups. Near the end of semesters, you might hear a buzz around the philosophy departments about different reading groups that members of the faculty or grad students are planning on organizing. Almost every philosopher—at one time—commits themselves to a reading group, but it common knowledge that nearly half of all philosophers who do commit to a reading group will actually attend said reading group. Just the idea of reading groups make philosophers very excited.

Those who do actually follow through with this group will commit themselves to many more readings than they can actually finish in a break, which adds to their guilt. My philosopher, in fact, has gone on record for the statement, “Perhaps the most important skill in grad school is guilt management.”

3. Working on a Thesis, Dissertation, or Publication

Most people who are not affiliated with anyone in academia do not realize how much work academics actually do during breaks. Philosophers (and others) tend to keep a mental list of all of the projects that they need to do during the school year, which they are planning to push off until a break. The list is usually insurmountably long, and your philosopher may end up seeming even busier than they are during the semester.

This is often the time when philosophers work on theses, dissertations, or other publication projects (articles, books, conference presentations).

4. Having Lots of Philosopher-Parties

Philosophers generally love to get together and drink and eat. Because they don’t have specific schedules during breaks, you may often find philosophers getting together for philosopher-parties.

5. Attending Conferences

There are many conferences during breaks—especially summer breaks. Long breaks are the chance for long-term conferences, sometimes up to a month long. Philosophers also may find themselves invited to special roundtables or workshops, which are chances for them to spend time with other philosophers interested in their subject area and present and write papers together. Your philosopher may even get paid for attending these.

To spouses/partners of philosophers: Because philosophers tend to either throw themselves completely into projects during a break and obsess over them or do nothing and feel really guilty and depressed, you might find yourself as a sort of floodgate controller. I find myself doing a lot of "directing" during breaks, especially in regards to encouraging my philosopher to attempt new projects when he's in the doldrums and being a helpful shoulder when he's attempted a project that's too large. Bake lots of cookies.

To all non-philosophers: The nicest part about breaks is that your philosopher is a bit more flexible with their schedule than they usually are during the semester. Feel free to encourage (and/or nudge) your philosopher to do something fun with you. Philosophers also like to do normal-people things, but sometimes they just need a bit of encouragement that it’s okay to take a break from their work.

You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). I also welcome emails (left sidebar). If you have any suggestions for how to keep green pepper plants from dying in a hot, humid, windy region, please feel free to send these along, too.

~The Philosiologist


  1. I am continually impressed by how well our blogger has us philosophers pegged. Summer just kicked off for me, and I've been a 1 the past few days because I am supposed to be a 3. Of course, if I can get 3 done this summer, that would eliminate the problem of 1, as I would cease to feel guilty. Oh wait, if I finish 3 then I should move on to getting some journal articles in for publication. Damn! That's still 3, isn't it?

  2. I have really enjoyed reading this blog ever since I ran across it but I have to say that this post may be the MOST spot on yet.
    I am in between schools right now (MA to PhD at different school) so am in a really weird place during this break. I have articles I could prepare for publication, I want to read some stuff that I have been putting off, but then I just end up not doing anything because I can't decide which to focus on.

    I think you should add something like "read material normally outside his/her focus" - could still be philosophy, but different. I know that is something I often like to do on breaks (usually science or history, but sometimes philosophy I am not familiar with) and know at least a few other philosophers similarly motivated. It appears the intellectual ADD catches up in the summer - it exists during the school year but is tempered by direction via classes or advisers but during the summer all bets are off and I (we?) just jump from topic to topic like crazy.

  3. I don't study philosophy (medical student), however reading this makes me realise I probably should be a philosopher