I really enjoy and appreciate the structure and strange sort of energy that term-time brings. I like the regularity of weekly or fortnightly seminar series, I like it when the library is full enough (but not exam-time full...) for there to be the critical mass of students required to create this buzz of workfulness and concentration on each and every floor. I like having my afternoon of playing organised sports mid-week to look forward to and to structure my work around; I work extra-hard on a Wednesday morning to justify those two hours out running around on a muddy field and recharging my brain. I like each week being five days long, and looking forward to the secure brevity of the weekend.
But, in the summer, it's much harder to maintain that structure and rhythm. Visitors who wouldn't come in term time, because of course you're too busy, descend cheerfully in the summer, and suddenly the working week is disrupted, and you find yourself grabbing writing or research time on a Sunday afternoon because Thursday and Friday that week you were taking your guests to some of the local landmarks. The library is quiet and it's difficult to get into the 'zone' in the midst of a quiet, warm, empty space after a couple of days of being in holiday mode with said guests. Early- or mid-summer conferences once more break up the usual flow, and without the pressures of teaching or other term-time tasks to turn to the temptation to take time off to recover from their intensity is great.
The academic workflow is a strange thing in many ways. During term-time, you are very much "on duty", simply by virtue of inhabiting a university setting in the midst of that period of extreme wakefulness that having undergraduates in attendance can bring. But the long vacations enjoyed by those very undergraduates aren't truly "off" time for other members of the university community from postgraduate researchers upwards. As a PhD student, you don't apply for an allowance of ring-fenced vacation days, as you might in other jobs. A PhD isn't about working a certain number of days per year from 9-5: it's about completing this one big task to the best of your abilities. And, for the most part, how that happens is pretty much down to individual discretion. But there is this weird tension in the weeks when the institution to which you belong falls into its summer slumber, and the task of self-motivation that is surely 50% of a PhD student's work becomes doubly complicated.
Right now, my solutions to this are three-fold. Firstly, I am having lots of long afternoons drinking coffee and working companionably with my husband (also a historian). The combination of caffeine and company, along with that coffee-shop hum of nearby conversations, helps to replicate some of the buzz of an almost-full library or office. Secondly, I've been helping to run, and participating in, writing groups for postgraduate historians at St Andrews. These provide that critical mass of fellow-workers and, whilst our summer guests (parents-in-law from the States) are visiting, provide an unshirkable reason to temporarily leave off the pleasures and responsibilities of hosting and tour-guiding, and a great space for very intensive endeavours to make up for days of work missed.
Finally, it's just sort of worked out that after 9 months of PhD research I am now ready for a couple of longer projects, namely synthesising and writing up the results of my first bout of primary research, and working up my first article for publication. Term-time, with so many things going on, is great for research and secondary reading, which - at least for me - can often happen in a fairly 'modular' fashion, filling up shorter chunks of time between administrative tasks, meetings, language classes, and seminars. On the other hand, the seemingly endless summer, with half the people one might meet with away and language classes a warm and distant memory, is ideal for those aspects of academic work that require longer focus and perhaps slower, more extended periods of thinking.
On which note: time to get back to the minor task of summarising the impressions of mountains in 400+ pieces of early modern artwork...