Why I am never really on vacation


This week is winter holiday (sportlov) week for the Umeå school system. Although the university fails to recognize the holiday, every employee with children knows it, and generally takes off from work. Technically, this means that this week, I am on vacation. In fact, I get a lot of vacation working for a university in Sweden: 35 paid vacation days (I’m over 40 so I’m at the highest amount) plus the public holidays that fall on weekdays, which is about 10. That’s a huge number of days per year that I’m not supposed to be working.

This sportlov I’m with my family in Belgium and we’re having a lovely time visiting historic sites in Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels. Yet while I’ve been on vacation, I spent several hours finalizing and submitting a grant application that was due this week, I dedicated a couple hours each day the first three days completing an article draft that was due on the 3rd, and I sent back page proofs for a book review. On top of that, I have an extended visit to the US that includes talks, a workshop, and a conference coming up later this month, so I read and responded to plenty of emails about arrangements.

If I was working in a regular office, then when I would take vacation, someone else would be responsible for filling in for me. The thing is, in academia no one fills in for you—in fact, they can’t. No one else is going to do my research or write my articles while I’m out. No one else will check my page proofs or submit my grant applications. Unfortunately, the schedule of many of those things is outside of my control. Others set the deadlines, and sometimes they have very short turnaround times, so being available is a must. Good planning minimizes the amount of work time necessary while away, but there’s often still more to do than can be done before leaving.

I get the impression that some of my Swedish colleagues really do take vacation—they don’t stay connected and they don’t work when they are off. I’m not sure how they do it. All I know is that with the number of commitments I have, with both my own research, writing, and service to the scholarly community, I don’t have the luxury of not working. What this means is that although I am listed as taking vacation for seven weeks a year, I’m never really on vacation.

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