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The Doha Heat Drives Most Academics to Cooler Climes

DOHA—Quick, let’s play a summer game. We’ll call it “find the academic.” And let’s play in Qatar, just to make the game especially challenging.

Summertime temperatures in Qatar can rise above 40 degrees Celsius, 120 Fahrenheit. Summer here lasts for about four months starting from April. Many Doha residents complain of their eyewear misting up when they walk out of their cars or buildings, thanks to Doha’s coastal location that causes ruthless summer humidity.

Universities, government organizations and private companies are deadly quiet this time of year. Both students and professors like to escape. Expatriate faculty members often have generous leave time, up to two months, and round-trip tickets home.

A few people remain. A fashion-design student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar was spotted racing from her air-conditioned car to her university building. She did not want to tan.  “It’s almost 44 degrees Celsius, I can’t stay under the sun for long,” she said. “I turn dark!”

The Doha heat “increases in intensity throughout the summer,” said James Paul Mirrione, an English literature professor at Qatar University who hit the road this year to blaze a global trail when summer arrived. “By August, it is like waking up to the heat of a pizza oven in your face.”

He believes that it is essential for academics to read and write during summer and prepare for the new semester.

Mirrione, who hails from New York City, says that because he teaches cultural topics “I have to get back to the States to get an injection of theatre, music and the arts. Doha is not open during the summer so it was time to leave. I am dividing my time among London, the States and Europe.”

Eirini Theodoropoulou escaped the heat by traveling to Ano Syros, a traditional Cycladic village on Syros island in Greece. She has been visiting friends and family, swimming, cycling and hiking.

“The main two reasons why I, personally, leave the country are because I need to spend time in nature with family and friends as well as to do some research under circumstances of tranquility,” said Eirini, an assistant professor of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis at Qatar University.

“Sometimes, it can get hot in Greece, too, but not as hot as in Qatar. My initial reaction to heat, when I first arrived in Doha, was a rather positive one, not only because as a native Greek I am accustomed to heat, but mainly because before I went to Doha, I was living in the UK, so I had really missed the sun and the heat,” she said.

Universities are generally closed for the summer, but are open to students, faculty and staff members if they wish to stay for academic research.

Faculty members seek peace and quiet, not just cooler climes. “In truth, the heat is not a big factor for me. It’s more that the summer is that big chunk of time where I can do research,” said Iliano Cervesato, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

The home campus of Carnegie Mellon has two intensive summer semesters, but in Qatar the campus usually just has one, from May 19th to June 30th.  “During that time,” says Cervesato, “it’s business as usual.” The university is open the rest of the summer, he says, with students doing independent study and working on research projects. “There are fewer people on campus during the summer, but it’s still a pretty busy place,” he said.

Paul Wood, a computer-support specialist at Northwestern University in Qatar, stayed on campus and finds he can get caught up on work and prepare for the arrival of students and faculty members.

“The Doha summer affords a time for reflection on the past year and a focus on the academic year to come,” says Wood. Then there is another bonus: Much less traffic.

Paul cycles for fun around the city in the summer. He gets looks of astonishment. “When asked,” he said,  “I tell folks it is only hot when you stop.”
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