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Be Your Own Academic Guru this Fall

August 20, 2017

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about August anxiety...that dreadful feeling when August arrives and you realize that you didn't meet all of the writing and career goals you set back in May. Now we are in late August and looking at a new academic year straight in the face.


Transitioning into fall semester can be a little tough. We may have to wake up earlier. Our workloads increase. We may have to start the difficult task of integrating our children's school activities into our busy schedules. We end the sweet summer period of ample parking on campus and start a fall semester with congested parking lots and streets. Some of us may be tempted to start counting down the days to winter break.


I suggest an alternative - rather than allow the stressors of fall overcome us, we could train ourselves to engage in academic mindfulness and fully experience the joys of a new academic year. Need help becoming your own academic guru? Here is some advice. 

Enjoy our time with our colleagues. 

For many of us, summer session can be a lonely and isolating time. For me, I spent the majority of my summer working at my kitchen table tapping the keys of my laptop. It was productive and I enjoyed spending extra time with family and friends over the past three months. However, I miss regular interactions with my colleagues. 


Fall semester is a time to engage with our colleagues over academic matters. I anticipate being excited over new project and grant ideas. There will be stimulating discussions with others in our field about topics that make the eyes of our family and friends gloss over in boredom. There will be opportunities to share our newly-formed family memories from summer adventures with others. Looking forward to those moments can put a more positive tone on our increasingly frequent trips to the office. 


Embrace opportunities for positive change. 

Fall semester also means the return of regular faculty meetings. I do not know many people who enjoy faculty meetings, especially when fall semester also means there will be new training sessions and all-day retreats placed on our calendars. But remember that faculty meetings are the time we set aside to discuss how to improve upon what we are doing in academia. We discuss how curriculum changes could improve our degree programs. We explore ways to improve students' experiences so that they are more engaged and prepared to learn. We learn about new opportunities for research and writing. By focusing on the goals of meetings, rather than the mundane task of simply sitting through them, we can appreciate the time we dedicate to improving academia. 


Reciprocal learning benefits everyone. 

Each year as I try to impose new knowledge onto my students, I walk away with new knowledge, insight, and ideas as well. Rather than focus my attention to poor writing habits and students who lack interest and initiative, I choose to focus on my interactions with students that contribute to a community of learners. While I try to facilitate and lead such communities, I also am an active participant. It excites me when discussions with students leads to my own personal and academic growth. I also enjoy seeing academic growth in my students. 


This last point may be the most important one of all during this particular fall semester. Recent events at the University of Virginia, the effects of the recent travel ban on members of our academic community, public debates over controversial speakers on campuses, and general uncertainty of current politics and society have left many in academia disconcerted. We may expect that students and faculty members alike will reach out to us and initiate discussions that are uncomfortable. As someone who teaches social and health policy, I'm expecting that each week we will end up infusing course content with current events - either intentionally or organically. As academics, this is when we can be at our finest. Here is where we can use our skills and knowledge to create a safe and open space for discussions of difficult topics. We can teach students how to debate and argue, using facts, research, and integrity. This is where we can broaden perspectives - including our own. Hence, fall semester may lead to a time of healing and increased insight. 


Whatever you enjoy about fall semester, be mindful of it and fully experience it. This is a time for growth and renewal. I wish each and every one of you an enjoyable and exciting start to the new school year!


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