Academic Rhythm

by Kristene Coller

There is a rhythm to academic life. September brings about a new academic year full of eager students ready to begin (or continue) their academic journey. January brings about the winter semester where students and faculty alike count down to summer. Even within each semester, there is a rhythm that faculty become accustomed to over the course of a four month semester. Small assignments near the start of term, midterms, term projects and final exams that need marking all contribute to a regular and predictable pattern of what comes to be seen as “academic life”. The end of April for many faculty members signals a transition to a break from teaching to a focus on presenting academic research at annual conferences and work on research projects that have been neglected over the fall and winter semesters.

While most faculty take a break from teaching over the summer, I continue teaching between May and the end of August while attending conferences and completing PhD thesis revisions. This is part of my pre-COVID-19 summer routine. Summer courses, at the best of times, bring about a substantial change to the rhythm of a normal academic term. Condensing a course into a six-week time period involves carefully planning deadlines to provide the greatest opportunity for providing adequate feedback while maximizing much needed family time during long weekends and hopefully nicer weather. COVID-19 however, has increased the complexity of teaching a summer course. Transitioning the class online, building in checkpoints to demonstrate learning outcomes while adjusting to working exclusively from home with two house bound children requires a delicate balance. What is the best format to maximize the benefits to student learning while also helping my children adjust to a “new” normal of long summer days with no parks or friends to play with?

Most summers involve squeezing in family vacations around conference dates and the brief break between semesters. COVID-19 has changed this aspect of my academic summer. This summer I won’t need to worry about lining up guest lecturers or coordinating exam invigilators so that I can attend and present at conferences that are important to my continued career development (although I would much prefer that challenge to the situation we are currently facing). Coordinating vacations around conference dates and teaching often means “sharing” my time between important networking opportunities or addressing student inquiries and participating in “typical” tourist activities with my family so that I am not missing out on special memories.

Teaching, conferences and family, however, are only three components of my academic summer. I am hoping to complete revisions on my PhD thesis so that I can defend before the end of this year (fingers crossed). Coordinating my time to work on revisions during a condensed academic term of teaching, conference travel and increased family demands with the schedule of my committee requires careful scheduling every academic term resulting in a different pattern or rhythm from most.

Fall. Winter. Summer. Repeat. This summer it includes more hand washing and physical distancing.