Just last week we awarded, for the first time by the Baylor University Graduate School, eleven summer dissertation fellowships to doctoral candidates in STEM, Humanities, and Social Science fields who are currently in the writing stage of their dissertations. The summer fellowships provide financial support for two solid months of research and writing. Our goal with these fellowships is to help students finish their dissertations stronger and earlier by maximizing summer productivity.

Staying productive during the summer is a challenge for many of us. Without the structure of seminars and graduate assistant work, continuing a daily rhythm of regular working hours can be hard–especially given the siren song of vacation, sleeping longer, and just recovering from the stress of the regular school year. So how do you do it? How can you accomplish significant research and writing during the summer, a time when most of us have fewer accomplishments, and begin the fall semester not only refreshed but also with peace of mind about the state of our research agendas?

I sought the advice of some of your graduate faculty mentors on how to stay productive as a researcher and writer. May their practical insights both encourage and challenge you.

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament

“I always make a schedule for my projects, whether during the school year or in the summer, indicating the steps that remain in a given project and when I will complete each one. I don’t know that I have ever managed to follow one of those schedules successfully, but without it any project just marches on into infinity. I do make time for family vacation, without work, and I do go to a conference or two, but apart from that I keep mornings clear for work. That’s my most productive time and, if I lose a morning to errands or appointments, I all too often lose the whole day.”

Michael Trakselis, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Affairs, Chemistry and Biochemistry

“Writing is a constant struggle for me that I have had to actively work on ever since being a graduate student. I find if you can make publication-quality figures as you complete experiments, the text tends to write itself. It is also important to be diligent and schedule blocks of time and stick to it. For me, this is 2 hours a day. A lot of times, I will print out and proof written material from that day in the evening. That way, the next day I can update the electronic text with previous edits. This has a dual purpose in that it moves my writing along, but more importantly, it gets me immersed into writing more quickly the following day. One other trick, is that I usually end writing in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. It seems easier to continue that thought and maintain writing the next day.”

Barry Hankins, Professor and Chair of History

“Henry David Thoreau allegedly once said, “Writing is what happens when a man has too much time on his hands” (today he would have said man or woman). That inspired me to come up with my own quote about writing. My motto is “If you want to write, ya gotta write.” Not very snappy, but that’s the point. Being from the blue-collar, General Motors city of Flint, Michigan, I also call this the “factory approach.” Essentially, it means I get up every day, walk into my study, sit down at my computer, and write—the same way a factory worker goes to the factory. I don’t wait for the ideas to come, because they usually don’t until I start to write. I don’t wait until I’ve got all the research done, because I never know how much more I need until I write. New YorkTimes columnist David Brooks wrote a piece on this several years ago where he described the writing habits of Anthony Trollope, Maya Angelou, and a few others. Brooks summarized, saying, creative people “think like artists and work like accountants.” Snappier than my quote, to be sure, but same idea.  If you wanna write, ya gotta write.”

Keep Writing!