Oh frailty, thy name is Summer!

By Lennaert van Veen

Finally, here is the October issue of DSWeb Magazine, which quietly turned into a November issue. I would like to claim that this delay was caused by the recent sequester in the United States, but the reasons are rather more mundane. We were busy. And who isn't? In North America and in Europe, the fall semester is in full swing. Deadlines for grant applications somehow gravitate towards the middle of that semester, as do preparations for next year's conferences and, frankly, all that work related to teaching that has been piling up since September. In Japan, the new semester is well underway and thesis deadlines loom, pushing up the blood pressure of those graduating and those supervising alike. And south of the equator, well, it is the same thing except it would be called the spring semester, would it not?

Certainly this is not a great time of year. My frustration piles up when I am not able to bring the ideas I had over summer to fruition, having only the odd after hours to spend on them. Moreover, the end of the hectic days is not in sight. The three-week break around new year's eve serves only to catch up and patch up; then lectures, office hours and committee meetings once again tighten their grip.

Indeed, the spring semester is not much better. Granted, it is not usually strewn with grant application deadlines and the days lengthen so getting up for that early lecture doesn't feel quite as onerous. Yet batteries will be running low and then there are the end-of-year reports. There is always something to report. A benefactor wants to know how I spent that grant money, the high-performance computing consortium wants to know how I engaged the users at my university, and perhaps the engineers want to know how the service teaching went.

Then summer. Now that is the stuff! The only students remaining on campus are those working on research projects. Committees are lazily suspended and emails get answered from all corners of the world. Have you seen Sebius around? No, he is in Peru at the applied physics workshop. What about Yohann? Oh he's in Corsica for that shear flow meeting... If I want to float some ideas for a project with a colleauge, we fix an entire afternoon, not an hour in between marking midterms attending faculty council.

There is just one nagging imperfection to summer: she is so short and frail. No idle day passes without the guilty awareness that integrals should have been done and papers should have been written. No productive day passes without grim realization that I must find time to relax and recharge those batteries. Day time passes much faster than days lengthen. Surely, I an not the only one who finds it impossible to truly enjoy summer, when I know I must spend each hour meeting contradicting demands.

The best time is thus spring, when the whole summer lies ahead of us. So many new ideas to develop, so many papers to write! Yet, if summer is stressful, then even more so is spring, for the stress of summer precedes its joys. We look at the calender and realise that preciously few summer days are left when we subtract travel, the graduate student's examinations, upgrading the operating system and preparations for that new course in fall. We cannot shake off the premonition of making up the balance at the end of August, when we will find that not half the papers we were going to finish made it past that stage in which each section consists of three bullet points and a figure without a caption.

Logically, then, the best time is right now. Stumbling from one deadline to the next, from one class to another, there is nothing to remind us of the impeding disappointment. We have carte blanche to complain and selectively procrastinate and demands for our time are carefully wrapped in such phrases as "I know this is a busy time, but..." and "I know you must be quite busy, however ..." Add to that the lack of sunlight and sub-zero temperatures and you have the perfect circumstances.

I think I am going to ask UNIFESP to hire me every April to August.

Lennaert van Veen

Categories: Magazine, Editorial

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