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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Putting on the Brakes This Summer

Focusing on your year-round teaching and research enrichment schedule can help free up your priceless dog days.

May 14, 2019

Deidra Faye Jackson earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where she teaches in the Departments of Writing and Rhetoric and Higher Education. You can find her on Twitter at @DeidraJackson11.

On my to-do list this summer: take the place of the woman pictured above, but without the backpack. If you’re like me, your knapsack, would be filled with some of the scholarly memos, hastily transcribed notes-to-self, books, articles, and other academic gear that you had collected over the school year in anticipation of the approach of another new semester.

In advance of the months ahead, I’ve got just two pieces of solid advice for the graduate students, early-career researchers, and other scholars who are or soon will be focused on getting a head start on the new academic term: 1) Be well; and 2) next go-round, carve out time (LOL, I know, I know) year-round to engross yourself in strategic teaching and research enrichment.

The end of one term automatically reinvigorates my desire to craft new teaching and/or research goals; however, such a trigger also means that I’ll probably be spending some protracted part of the summer digging into all that accumulated academic paraphernalia and planning the upcoming semester, instead of giving in to all the much-needed summer rest and/or pleasure that I can.

This time, however, I’m reclaiming my solstice.

That bookish backpack? Don’t take this stuff with you to the beach. Instead, enjoy the beach. It’s the beach!

This is the summer companion to my March 8 column, Putting on Brakes this Spring Break, in which I offered suggestions for making the most of your springtime respite. You’ll find that routinely making daily, weekly or monthly incremental plans to refine or revise your academic work in preparation for the new year – well in advance – will release some of your summer time and free up your priceless dog days.

As the spring semester ends, we tend to take stock of our academic work and ask “How can we make the fall semester better?” So begins our inventory of the ending term to make way for the new.

My usual course pre-planning process for most semesters, always seemed to reach a fever pitch in the waning days leading up to my formal class introductions to a new crop of students. This ingrained habit had to stop.

Instead, I recommend setting aside bits of quality time, frequently and over the long stretch. Use these moments to contemplate your ongoing progress with research and teaching to more effectively plan your semester, well in advance of those orientation sessions. This is a good way to move forward while allowing yourself some flexibility.

GradHackers, over the years, have offered many diverse ways for graduate students and faculty researchers to spend their priceless summer months, including melding work and play, reading about teaching and learning, and focusing on productivity and balance. However, what follows are some solutions to ending the typical anxious summer rush to plan for another new semester.

Prosper from programs whose missions include offering regular enrichment to its instructors. If you’re fortunate enough to work at an institution that values recurrent professional enrichment and promotes collegiality, then reflecting on and improving your teaching and research and sharing best practices with colleagues can certainly make advance semester planning and reflection less problematic. But in the best of academic worlds, even without such supports, independently, we can still study, take stock of past terms, and apply the lessons learned and dump the strategies that flopped.  

Frequent debriefing is key. While not having strong support systems in place – and, it goes without saying, amid labor-intensive academic environments – may make pre-planning more challenging, recording or documenting small observations and reflections throughout the semester can ease future semester planning going forward.

Don’t forget to also be flexible and amenable to flipping your script. GradHacker Trent M. Kays took an opposing view in his post, Forget Planning. Just Teach, and his opinion serves as a good foil to this column; however, he also embraces flexibility when it comes to the start of the new semester, especially, the first two weeks: “We all know things change,” he wrote. “So, it's important to know that we don't need to rush through the first few meetings, and we don’t need to worry about getting behind. This is a time to get to know your students and really think about how the semester might go.”

Question your process – but sooner. Rather than waiting until the end of the term to consider how well the semester actually went, we would be better served to ask probing questions like these, sooner and more often throughout the semester: What worked and what didn’t work today (or this week/month)? How can I replicate this success? Where do I need to pay increased focus? How is this moving my students (or my research goals) from one pivotal point to another?    

OK, now, off to the beach we go. Remember: no backpacks.

Share how you are planning to spend your summer. Do you benefit from additional teaching and/or research enrichment during the year? How is it enhancing you and/or your work? Tell us about it in the comments below or on Twitter!

{Photo by Daniel Salcius on Unsplash and under the Creative Commons license.}


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