Whether you are starting a new academic job or returning to an old one, the start of the new academic year brings its own sets of challenges. This article will advise you on ways to overcome these difficulties.
1. New systems:
If you are starting a new job, or if your university has a tendency to constantly develop and change the systems within which you work, you will have to cope with unfamiliar procedures when term starts. At my institution, for example, assigning students to a particular seminar group has become automated this year, leaving the potential for human error and confusion among staff members (wondering whose responsibility a certain task is). New computer systems often crash at crucial, busy moments at the start of term and these problems add to the stress of returning to university after the summer break.
2. New timetables:
Working to your own timetable (either from home or in a lab or an archive) for much of the summer can make coming back to the teaching year a challenge. Of course many academics will have been at their institution for part of the summer, managing graduation, clearing, resits and so on, but for those who haven’t, and for new starters or temporary staff, getting used to a new timetable can be daunting. This time of uncertainty is not helped by administrative tardiness that means that you may not receive your new timetable until only a few weeks or days before the start of term.
3. New work/life balance:
Having had a good deal of flexibility over the summer months, suddenly an academic is thrown into an entirely different way of working during term time. Once the hectic period of the first few weeks is over, the pastoral responsibilities and the batches of marking begin and then an academic’s life gets really busy. For many people this also means adapting to a new commute while for others, a recent house move means that a sense of disorganisation: not the best place from which to start a new academic term.
4. The positives:
However, despite these negative impacts on your life, most academics look forward to the start of the year with excitement. A new cohort of students, new courses to teach or new administrative responsibilities will provide stimulation and enjoyment. The eagerness of the new and returning students is almost always matched by that of their lecturers. The start of the year gives an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, another pleasurable part of the job.
Tips for survival:
- Organisation. Being well organised from the very start of term is the best foundation for success. Diaries and wall planners are crucial tools! Have several weeks’ teaching prepared in advance so that you’re not constantly trying to catch up. Make sure that your course materials, whether paper or online, are completed and provided to students well in advance.
- One day at a time. If you know you have a really busy week ahead then this can be rather daunting mentally and can lead to panic. Break up your week into small ‘chunks’ of time, and make sure that you are well prepared for each part.
- Tell family and friends to tread carefully! Let those around you know that this is a busy and stressful time and hopefully they will allow you time to get into the rhythm of the new term. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt to a new routine. By the time reading week comes around at the start of November, it will be as though you were never away!