New Terms, Old Blues

Oh, August, you’re such a difficult month for academics.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds are already filling with the posts and tweets of dread.  The new semester/quarter/term looms large.  None of us accomplished nearly as much as we’d hoped in the last eight weeks or so.  And, of course, those syllabi aren’t going to write themselves.

Not to go all Pollyanna-ish on you, but I think a good antidote to these Impending Semester Blues, is a dose of What Inspires You.  Reconnect with the things that got you into this game in the first place.  Reflect on your favorite moments in teaching–that time you could practically see the light bulb above the student’s head and you knew he/she “got it.”  That amazing research paper a student wrote two years ago.  The former student who contacted you to tell you about the great job he/she got.  Reflect on what excites you about your research.  Getting that article accepted for publication.  The opportunity to collaborate with a great colleague.  Traveling to a cool city to present a paper.  Remind yourself of the intellectual puzzles that animate your brain.  And just for fun think about the relationship between the cool teaching moments and the exciting parts of research.  Might there be a way in the coming year to get those two things in dialogue with one another?  If they already are, how could you take things to the next level–involving students in your research, for example.

After you’ve reclaimed some of the excitement about being an academic, reinvent yourself, your course, your research.  One of the upsides of academe is that we are given yearly opportunities to press the “reset” button.  Each new terms hands us a new schedule, new students, and new chances to make changes.  Didn’t like that book you assigned last year?  You can choose a new one!  Translate some previous good intentions into action.  Wish you’d gotten more exercise during the spring term?  Look at your fall schedule now and map out some times for regular workouts.  Always falling behind on your email inbox?  Develop a strategy (try this or this, for example) to make it more manageable before the term starts.

Finally, buy yourself something to celebrate the start of the new term.  It doesn’t have to be something big.  A new coffee mug that makes you smile.  A new pen that you’ll enjoy using during those upcoming department meetings.  A great looking accessory (a tie, a scarf) that will put some pizzazz in those days when you’re staring down a long teaching schedule.

At some point, of course, the excitement will wane, there won’t be the time or the energy to reinvent or change things very much, and the new coffee mug will be a bit stained.  But why not ready yourself for those times now?  Set up a regular coffee date with a friend.  Schedule a half-day sometime later in the semester when you’ll put everything aside and go to a movie, read a book, spend time at the art museum, or go kayaking (you get the idea).

In short, make preparations that will shift your perspective.  No use fighting the onset of a new term, but there certainly are some cures for the end of summer blues.

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