The Winter Holidays and Academia part 1

posted Nov 25, 2012, 6:56 PM by jj pionke
We just had American Thanksgiving this past weekend.  It's a time of year when college students everywhere mostly go home and eat food prepared typically by a female relative.  For me, that is my mother.  For most of my undergrad years, I went home for the entire week.  Teachers canceled classes for the most part believing, and rightfully so, that many students would skip class in favor of spending more time with their families.  In graduate school, there is more of an expectation that you will be present in class, even when attendance is not being taken, for the simple fact that you are serious about your education and want to know what the teacher is saying because if you miss even one class, you are going to miss something incredibly important.  This is certainly quadruply true of being a graduate student at a place like the University of Michigan.  To that end, I didn't go home until after my last class on Wednesday before the break officially began at 5pm.  I came back to Ann Arbor in the late afternoon of Sunday having left Chicago in the late morning in order to avoid the traffic (a smart move as I have since heard there are some pretty good traffic jams out there).  Someone just posted on my Facebook wall that in some ways Thanksgiving is the worst holiday because you come back to school and realize that you have 3 week of classes left and spent a four day weekend doing nothing that you should have been doing.  They are right of course.

Even though I ate and talked and slept, I still graded, did a bit of reading, and answered email.  Was I as productive as I usually am?  No.  Am I gonna pay for it this week?  Oh yeah.  Still, I wouldn't trade Thanksgiving away though.  After pushing hard all semester in what has been a very rough semester indeed, taking a break, even a break that has a bit of working attached, is very welcome.  There was a recent post on Profhacker written by a very good friend of mine that is so true - try to get ahead of the game before the holiday, really enjoy the holiday, and keep physically active.  Her post was on my mind a lot this last weekend where I spent all day Thursday not doing any homework or grading (though I did answer email) and Friday where I spent most of the day with family making gingerbread houses (though I read a bit of an article in between shifts of was an article on algorithms which made the entire family just blink at me in bewilderment when I tried to explain what the main thesis was...I'm the nerdy black sheep in my family, what can I say?), but Saturday was a grading slog with semi-frequent glances at the various football games that my mother was watching.  Still, for me at least, I followed my friend's advice and tried to chill out as much as possible.

Now that I am back in Ann Arbor, I am surrounded by a to do list longer than my arm with things like apply for jobs, apply to PhD programs, finish writing a 20 page research paper, grade more stuff, read more pages, and so forth.  My Facebook friend is right, it's 3 weeks until the end of term.  If you want to get technical, 2.5 and then finals week.  Whichever way you slice it, we are in the home stretch.  Academia is cyclical in nature and is bound by the seasons and the holidays.  If you have been in academia for a long time, you adapt and start to almost unconsciously time yourself and your reactions and workloads to the time of year.  This can be good and bad.  That said, maybe it's time to start rethinking how we load ourselves up with work, especially in terms of the courses we take and teach.