on surviving the semester's close
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!"
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.
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.
end near. Each day another deadline. When is it over?
-- Haiku by Kirk Martini
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
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.'"
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
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.
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."
professor Susan Fraiman said she camps out in a book store and
does "marathon sessions stoked by lots of coffee. ...
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."
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
morning exercise routine always makes me feel better, and helps
me to feel that I can confront the day," said history professor
said she takes several short breaks throughout the day, "just
to breathe and relax the tight muscles."
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)."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.