Dec. 1-7, 2000
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Advice on surviving the semester's close

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

When a friend of Emily Dickinson's asked her whether she didn't get bored, having so much time on her hands, the poet responded, "Time! Time is all I wanted!"

Her lament might resonate with many faculty members over the next few weeks, as they scramble to grade mountains of papers and exams amidst the season's holiday rituals. Inside UVA added a further task, asking a dozen randomly chosen professors to describe via e-mail how they manage time and stay sane at the end of the semester.

"BUDGET TIME," wrote Spanish professor David Gies, noting that December is particularly hectic for English and foreign language faculty, as they prepare to present lectures and interview job applicants at the Modern Language Association conference, held annually Dec. 27-30.

Semester's end near. Each day another deadline. When is it over?

-- Haiku by Kirk Martini

Italian professor Cristina Della Colletta said she tries to "space my energies consistently throughout the semester ...[and] avoid the temptation of last-minute deadlines, usually in response to equally late invitations to submit essays, give talks or join committees."

"Keep doing a mental recheck on priorities," suggested psychology professor Angeline Lillard. Postpone what can be postponed and complete small tasks as they arise. "Practice saying 'No, I don't have time.'"

French professor John D. Lyons said he arises daily before dawn to work on a scholarly project before doing anything else, and keeps his schedule flexible the days he's on Grounds.

"I used to try to have a beautifully efficient schedule, with everything carefully grouped into tight clusters of meetings," he said, but he realized the scheduling effort was time-consuming and anxiety-provoking.

Architecture professor Kirk Martini noted that having students work independently and give presentations during the term's final weeks can reduce faculty preparation time, but some professors can't avoid continuous preparation and massive amounts of grading.

"In that situation, the only thing to do is to work like crazy during the middle of the semester so the decks are clear when the term end arrives," he said.

As for the grading process, art history professor Daniel Ehnbohm said he divides papers into lots of five, rewarding himself with something like a cup of coffee or a phone call after finishing each lot. "It's rather like animal training."

English professor Susan Fraiman said she camps out in a book store and does "marathon sessions stoked by lots of coffee. ...

"For me, this is much more efficient than having to get reoriented each time over the course of several grading sessions," she said, adding that she thinks the results are fairer this way, since grading an entire class' exams at once seems to make it easier to "keep a single standard in mind."

Several professors said that, having done what they can to make the end of term less difficult, they focus on how they respond to the demands placed on them. Exercising regularly, living in the moment or "cultivating mindfulness" and taking time for fun were among their recommendations for staying sane during the semester's final weeks.

"My morning exercise routine always makes me feel better, and helps me to feel that I can confront the day," said history professor Phyllis Leffler.

Lillard said she takes several short breaks throughout the day, "just to breathe and relax the tight muscles."

Martini also advocated exercise, particularly "something that engages mind and body together [such as] golf, tennis or more meditative activities like t'ai chi, yoga or martial arts (I practice aikido)."

"When dealing with stress and pressure, the physical activity is much more effective if it is connected to the mind, since stress is the mind-body response to difficult situations," he said. "If you can control that response, you can control the stress and deal with the difficulty much more effectively."

Sarah Farrell, assistant professor of nursing, and Stephen Arata, associate English professor, both emphasized the importance of being involved in the present moment.

Farrell said she "stays centered" by beginning each morning with quiet time for prayer and reflection and ending each day with planning and journal writing.

"On any given day, my calendar (and yours) could be filled with two or more alternatives for each hour of the day. By planning, I make my choices and I enjoy them to the fullest," she said, adding that her family of five eats dinner together nightly, with each person "sharing the best and worst thing that happened that day."

"I continually remind myself to focus on the task at hand ... and remain aware of its pleasures, interests, stimulations," Arata said, "since my inclination is always to be looking ahead to the things I have to do next. ... Do the thing at hand, and then do the next thing. This approach doesn't get me through my tasks at any faster clip, but it keeps me from the fretfulness that I'm otherwise inclined to indulge in."

Finally, Lillard advised, "Take time for fun. ... Schedule lunches with friends instead of working through lunch at your desk." If a friend wants to attend an interesting lecture during the day, and you can possibly afford to go, do it, she said.

When all else fails, daydream about imminent vacations.


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