By: Krysten Blackstone |

As summer is sadly drawing to a close and undergrads will soon return, taking our study spaces and repopulating the halls, I find myself desperately clinging on to this last month, and my motivation for work plummeting.  Although we (PhD’s) get “summers” in the sense that the seasons change around us and we don’t have to teach classes, we don’t have the luxury of free-time like we used to in earlier stages of our education.  To help combat those end of summer blues, I’ve detailed 7 things that are helping get me through those remaining lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

1. Schedule 

If you don’t have an annual review process that forces you to schedule an outline of the year ahead, definitely do it.  It make seem like a silly exercise, but it helps you think more big picture in terms of the PhD, and afterwards.  Take a day to assess your progress and what you need to accomplish in the upcoming year, then make a rough plan to achieve it.  It doesn’t have to be formal, or set in stone, by any means, but it helps to have some sort of guidance while moving forward

2.To Do Lists 

I am a big fan of to do lists.  That probably is because I put a bunch of little tasks on them that I can then cross off without much effort.  “Write to do list,” check. “Sort emails,” check.  “Eat cake,” check, check, check and check.  As silly as it may sound, it does work, and helps you keep on track for a day or week.

3. Admin 

Catch up on your admin during the summer months.  It’s great to do when you just can’t bear to look at your chapter edits for the 13th time.  Fix your bibliography, or reorganise your notes – easy, but time consuming things that you have to do, but that you can do in front of netflix.  It means you don’t have to feel guilty about “wasting” a day, but you still get a mental break.

Sun and blue skies, what a treat.

4. Go Outside 

Living in Scotland means I get approximately 8.3 days of nice weather a year. (Don’t think the .3 possible? Oh I assure you, it is). Do not, I repeat, do not, spend your entire summer in an office staring at a computer.  If it’s nice outside and you have reading to do, go to a park and read there. Or take your lunch break outside.  Have a BBQ for dinner after work.  Whatever you do, going outside for at least a little bit on nice days isn’t going to make you fail your PhD, but it will help your mood.

Pens and folders and notebooks, oh my!

5. Back to School Shopping 

I’ve always been one of those people who becomes genuinely gleeful when stationary shopping.  I had to have new supplies EVERY year, even though I definitely had notebooks left over from previous ones.  The PhD has only continued this obsession.  Use the summer to get ready for the new academic year and get all the supplies you need.


This very post was written on a beach in Copenhagen.

6. Leave Town 

I find, whenever my motivation is low, that a change of scenery has an enormous effect on my productivity.  Whether it’s taking a few days completely away from any work, or going away just to write – the jolt to your routine is incredibly helpful.  Money is a perpetual problem for most PhD students, but if you can manage to find the budget for a few days, even by adding a brief holiday onto the end of a conference, getting away is a lifesaver.


7. Let Go of the Guilt

An undercurrent to all of the above, is the guilt.  As PhD students we have a limited time to complete our degree and as such we tend to feel guilty if we are behind on our schedules, or if we take a day off because there is always more work to do.   The guilt isn’t worth it.  Don’t get me wrong, institutional pressure helps us all work effectively, and strict timelines are absolutely needed, but there is no use in feeling perpetually guilty for 3-4 years.


Use the quiet of the summers months to your advantage: get prepared for the upcoming academic year, take a week off, write lists, eat cake, and enjoy the calm before the madness of term descends.


Krysten Blackstone is a first year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and a Pubs and Publications Committee Member.  You can find her on twitter.

Image 1:Krysten Blackstone, Image 2: Pixabay, Image 3: Krysten Blackstone, Image 4: Krysten Blackstone.