Working alone, together: studying throughout the summer

29 June 2021

While many undergraduates are happily finished with their studies for the year, the summer means a time of research and writing for many postgraduate students. Fourth year UCL PhD student Anthony has some tips to help you study over the summer and stay connected.

A book and notepad open on a table

You might not know it from the weather, but summer has finally arrived. Warm(ish) days with the sun beating through the clouds mean flocks of people now it outside in their shorts. And yet here you are, a post-graduate student with deadlines. It’s a challenging thought.

Even in the bustling metropolis of London, studying in the summer can be a challenge. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I want to suggest the ways in which you can work with others during your summer studies – to explore the ways that you can work alone, together.

1. Keep in contact

Perhaps an obvious one to start with, but keep in contact with friends throughout the summer. Whether it be in person or online, don’t squirrel yourself away. As the weather gets warmer and more people go outside, if you’re isolated you might feel worse at not being able to experience those same social situations. So work with others in any form throughout the summer months for your own mental health.

2. Take advantage of the new online possibilities

It’s safe to say we’ve all got a new appreciation for what going online can do for us. Using Zoom or Teams to organise a virtual tea break where you meet regularly can be a good way of keeping in the loop from the comfort of your own home. We all have those days where we want to stay in, especially if a deadline is looming, and the newfound virtual technologies that allow that whilst also giving you a bit of a break should be used wherever possible. 

3. Organise meet ups where you don’t talk about work

I really struggle to talk shop all the time. I’d much rather talk about what I’ve been watching or reading than my own research. It’s important that your meetings with friends are informal and relaxed, which can be difficult if everyone’s talking about how they’ve written 5,000 words this week. Make it a rule that you’ll only talk about fun things over the first drink – I’m still to work out how beetroot and chocolate go so well together in a cake and I’ll buy you a drink if you can tell me why.

4. Organise meet ups where you do talk about work

That said, it’s also key to have people you can talk about your work with if you need to. If you’re all studying over the summer then you’re all going through the same thing. Don’t be daunted either if your group is made up of students from various subjects – it can actually prompt a varied and interesting discussion about your research. Take the opportunity to talk with someone who knows nothing about your area.

5. Look for opportunities to engage in the wider academic community

There’s a host of conferences going on over the summer, and many are now online. Don’t tire yourself out by going to all of them, but spend some time seeing what’s coming up and what might interest you. This will help you mark out the long summer months (which can otherwise feel a vast cavernous space of empty time) and it might introduce you to others in your field.

6. Join a Writing Retreat session or study with friends in general

UCL’s Writing Lab offer writing retreats twice a week until the end of August. These sessions allow students from all faculties to gather together online in a supportive space and write in timed hourly slots. These sessions give a structure to your day and you’re encouraged to set a target that can be achieved during the session – then, once the day is over, you can go and relax in the knowledge of a job well done. Other groups offer these sorts of sessions (which are sometimes also called ‘Shut up and Write’) but you might want to get a group of friends together (in person or online) and organise them yourself.

7. Celebrate your achievements with others

It’s really important to recognise when you achieve something. The target of ‘Finish MA dissertation’ can be a long and arduous one, which will not necessarily be helped by the long summer months. So when you complete something (your reading, a chapter, a full draft, anything really) make sure you celebrate it with others and relax. Down time is as important during these months as work time – otherwise it’s very easy to burn out.

Working with others can feel a daunting experience: you might not want to feel a burden or you might feel jealous of what others achieve. But it’s vital that you maintain some form of community during the summer; look after yourself and know that everyone is going through the same as you – working alone need not be so awful if we do it together. 

Anthony Walker-Cook, PhD English Literature