Working Vacation

| Niels ter Meer

Vacations are a time to relax; to forget about studying for a while so you get back fresh. Getting that to work, however, is still a bit of a work-in-progress, thinks student columnist Niels ter Meer.


Last two weeks were the Christmas vacation. The first vacation university students and employees get in the first semester; a time when you’re supposed to relax. That would be nice, if only you find yourself lucky enough to be able to do so. After all, during the ‘vacation’, several forces conspire to keep us at our work.

For the sjaars, at least those of my programme, they are confronted on day one with resit week. In and of itself, planning a resit week directly after a vacation is weird. Suppose they indeed get to relaxing for two weeks, in which case they would have to do all the studying two weeks before their resits. I don’t see how that would work. But that supposition never holds, so instead of relaxing and being able to start the year fresh, they arrive back exhausted.

Once you’ve survived a couple of years of that and you finally roll into your master’s, it doesn’t get much better. Here, it’s also partially the students’ own fault; we like having as much time as possible for our project. That’s only fun until a deadline lands in the middle of a vacation. Even though it’s nice to have a work week without interrupting lectures, tutorials, meetings, or other obligations, it would be nice not to have that workweek in the middle of the vacation. Good luck if you have questions: just hope that some other poor colleague of yours ran into the same issue some time before; your teachers may or may not be available.

Although, ironically, sometimes they expect you to be available. You might have mixed up your courses, and handed in one assignment for the other. Of course you’re not allowed to have more time for the assignments, so if you could please send your assignment as soon as possible? I appreciate the opportunity to correct my bureaucratic mistakes (academic oopsies are for resits of course), but in principle, the earliest moment I would be working on it again — it was vacation after all — would be last Monday. So why the hurry?

Point is, even though studying is considered a full time occupation, we don’t get the labour protections that usually come with it. The assumption usually is that, if anything doesn’t turn out the way we had hoped, it is our fault — unless we can prove otherwise. It’s ‘never’ the case that the sum is greater than all its parts. It doesn’t matter whether you just ran out of time, got overwhelmed by the workload or got pneumonia, or had to deal with an exploitative internship company; instead of the deadlines and/or the bar being re-evaluated, you just have to sacrifice some of your time (off) — even if, in the long run, not doing that would make you a more productive/effective student.

Can someone explain why this is normal again? When will I have vacations that work, instead of having working vacations?

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