One of the obvious perks of student life is the extended summer holiday we get to enjoy between June and September. Throughout revision I was continually seduced by the long stretch of free time I would soon have: I would be able to read books which didn’t concern my exams! I would be able to explore London! I would be able to put my library card away for a bit! I would be able to brush up on my french skills!
Then, exams finish and suddenly you are thrust into the reality of a long summer holiday. For me, that reality is one punctuated by slight boredom and slight unfulfilment. Just in case you suffer from the same predicament I have compiled a short list of what I like to do during my long summers. Spoiler: I shamelessly use the break to boost my CV and gain experiences which might one day help me get a postgrad position or some employment.
All the things i’m going to discuss are pretty obvious, as in you won’t read this list and be like: “never thought of that one!” However, I think it’s always important to reiterate that volunteering is a hugely beneficial summer holiday activity, and it can sometimes get overlooked in relation to paid work.
I’m harbouring a growing interest in memory, visual neuroscience and psycholinguistics at the moment, so naturally I researched a few charities which work with patients and groups effected by issues encompassed by one of these three. That’s how I came across Alzheimer’s Society UK. Basically what i’m saying is: use one of your interests to help you source a worthwhile cause to volunteer for.
I haven’t started my placement yet, but I am already eager to begin. Volunteering in a local centre will allow me to interact with patients suffering from various forms of Dementia, an opportunity I have not been exposed to before. Volunteering will also boost my confidence, improve my links to the local area, and most importantly: allow me to help people during my free time, rather than just sitting and watching TV or something.
Earlier this year I was looking at the University of Warwick’s psychology pages (my parents live near to the university so I anticipated a summer spent in Coventry.) During one of my searches I found the Communication Development Lab headed up by Prof. Sotaro Kita and Dr. Stephanie Archer. I’d come across their research before, during a first year lab report on language acquisition so I got in touch with Kita and asked whether I could visit the lab during July.
I was offered a lab volunteer role after a short interview, and so far my experiences have been amazing. Working in a real life lab has given me an unprecedented insight into a life of research. Working with Stephanie, and lab research assistant Amy, has also been a highlight because they’re always so willing to give me helpful advice.
I literally cannot recommend trying to get a voluntary position at a lab enough, especially to anyone who wishes to pursue a future career in research. I’ve become far more vigilant and wise to the realities of a life spent in a lab. It’s also nice to be able to make connections with psychologists you once read about – it feels like you’re meeting a bit of a celebrity or something!
(Disclaimer: you might find an amazing lab, contact all the right people, and be told “no” – don’t take this personally, they’re probably just really busy or they can’t think of anything they need your help with. Always respond to a rejection by thanking them for their time and asking them to keep you in mind for any future opportunities. Manners cost nothing!)
The research being conducted in the lab is also a highlight for me: they are studying the development of language in children aged around 12 months, so observing the experiment has been both highly informative and pretty adorable. I’ll be sad to leave, which is a testament to the people i’ve met here.
Find out more about their work, and see me listed as a volunteer on their website.
One of the best things I did this summer was email Dr Susie Henley. Initially, I emailed her asking for some advice because her research interests increasingly align with my own. Basically, her impressive academic and professional background is the sort of thing I hope to one day emulate, so it seemed like she would be the ideal person to give me some guidance.
We then agreed to meet at the Dementia Research Centre (part of the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease at the UCL Institute of Neurology) and during the meeting I got the opportunity to ask her all my random questions. The whole experience was so invaluable.
So, you should definitely do a bit of research and find someone whose career you find inspiring, and then try to get in touch with them. Fair enough, “they might not reply”, so you could feel slightly nervous about emailing them at all. Rejection is never nice. However, they might respond – and you might have missed out on this if you had never even tried.
By the way, I’m not saying email Albert Bandura and ask for third year project title advice or anything, just have a look at your own university faculty and see who stands out to you. Good luck!
Pursue your hobbies with the luxury of time. For me, this involves reading every book in sight, boosting my french vocabulary, exploring new places and catching up with my nearest and dearest etc. The long summer is also a good opportunity to find new hobbies which could be a positive addition to your CV.
Along this grain I am going to try to dedicate more time to adding content to this blog. I also enjoy watching TED videos and the like whilst getting ready in the morning as it makes me feel productive without it being a chore.
Alternatively, you and a friend could try out some random classes or activities to see if any catch your fancy. Yoga…painting…that sort of thing. They might not spring to mind for employability at first, but they will undoubtedly broaden your horizons and give you a different insight into your own life. I think that distancing and recalibrating yourself for a little while can be important, and what better time to do that then during a long summer holiday free of essay deadlines?
My final suggestion, and the one with (perhaps) the most immediately tangible results. You will make bank and you will feel productive, but make sure that you capitalise on your vocation; don’t just turn up, do the task, get the paycheck and leave.
Every job teaches you something, even if you’re making random phone calls, assisting in a tiny cornershop or changing the world. For example, one of my first jobs was in a playgroup: I learnt how to work with children, be patient, coordinate creative activities and be confident when dealing with parents. Then, I worked in a shop: I learnt to be mindful of stock presentation, to be positive and friendly with customers and to take my own initative. Each of these skills will be useful to me in the future. Everything matters.
So don’t be delivering papers on your round and feel like “ugh this is pointless”. Instead, revel in all the skills you are gaining like community outreach, perseverance and organisation! Failing that, read the papers you are delivering and become clued up on current events…that’ll also be helpful.