Ten Things to Do Now that the Semester is Over

 

  1. Breathe. Not just a breath of relief—but consider trying out a meditation practice between now and the start of next semester. As academics, we have the luxury of having ebbs and flows to our work—and it’s our opportunity to take the lulls to establish different habits, or at least different perspectives, on our work.
  2. Set an intention. I’m serious. We are often so burnt out by the time we get to a break that all we can do is blobbify. That’s not a bad thing—but take a moment to recognize that that’s what you need, and do it with intention. Alternatively, if you have a pressing deadline that you absolutely must address during the break, that’s okay, too. But don’t just go into autopilot because you are already firing all your pistons from end-of-semester panic. Instead, be honest with yourself about what your goals are and how to best balance your need for rest and restoration with those goals.
  3. Disrupt your relationship to work. The holiday break between fall and spring is a conveniently bounded timespan to switch up how you relate to work. It is way too easy to substitute the franticness of semester “wrap up” tasks with holiday “to do” lists. Don’t do this—at least not unthinkingly. Pause for a moment, and feel what it’s like to take a day, or two, or even seven (or the whole month!) not being tied to a to do list. This doesn’t just mean letting go of stress about the little stuff; it also means disengaging your sense of self from the need to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. Just being is good enough!
  4. Look up and around you. When I graduated Berkeley with my PhD after nine years since matriculating, I walked up the stairs near the Campanile bell tower and turned around to look at the gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge ensconced in soft fog. It was stunning. And I had never noticed it before. At that moment I started to grasp what I had sacrificed on the road to the PhD—and what I was no longer willing to give up. Don’t wait as long as I did to do this!
  5. Celebrate. Other than a handful of major milestones (defending the Masters and the PhD, getting your first job, earning tenure), accomplishments in academia are drawn-out affairs. Our own (slightly superstitious, if I may say) modesty also gets in the way: shouldn’t we be working rather than celebrating? And, even those among us who do recognize the value of recognizing the value of our work are often too burnt out to celebrate. If you wait for the perfect moment to celebrate, you’ll never do it. So take the end of a semester—no matter how difficult, thankless, accomplished, or just dizzying it was—as a perfect time to celebrate.
  6. Tend to your relationships. Academics have a tendency to hole up. We like it this way, oftentimes—it is, after all, why many of us love this kind of work. But it can also make us lose perspective—and lead to a lot of regrets. Take the lull to take stock and care for the relationships that make life worth living, within and beyond academia.
  7. Tend to your life’s work. It’s a good time to get back in touch with why you’ve come to academia. There’s a lot of bullshit—big and small—that distracts us from Why We Are Really Here. It’s up to you to define whether academia ultimately fits with your objectives in this life, but one thing that academia does allow is incredible flexibility in crafting a life’s work and forging ahead with it. To do so, though, you have to be clear on what you want and why you want it—otherwise you’ll get swept up in the little stuff that animates academia to its own detriment. Take an inventory so you can get back in touch with the bigger purpose you bring to the world.
  8. Do stuff that doesn’t matter but feels good. Watch Netflix. Drink wine. Get a massage. Eat amazing food. Go on a beautiful hike. Laugh, smile, sweat. Feel how it feels to feel good!
  9. Read—anything—outside of your area of study. There’s a temptation to “catch up” on reading and other work while you are on break. You will always have more to work on, and there will always be more articles and books to read in your area. And you will, by the nature of how you organize your work as you move through your academic career, always have time set aside for stuff directly related to what you already do. What you will have a harder time justifying is stuff that’s squarely outside of your research interests. But reading far outside of one’s field is what keeps our minds fresh and curious, and gives us the respite from the boredom (no matter how intrinsically interesting our research may be) of Thinking About What We Think About Every Day.
  10. Gratitude. Sorry, but I couldn’t end a list without suggesting that you take a moment of gratitude. As thankless as academia can feel, it is also an incredible privilege to be able to inhabit the life of the mind. Recognizing this helps us appreciate our own social position as well as allows us to mobilize the power of that position to make academic better not just for ourselves but also those who are around us and those who come after us. Take a moment to pause from the isolation of your scholarly endeavors to appreciate the part you play—and want to play—in the academic collective.

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