The end of term is upon us, and now is the time to look back and take stock of the academic year so far. We often ask students to reflect upon their progress at around this point - whether before the winter break, or after the New Year, with the advent of exams and the end of the first semester – but academics rarely have time to stop and ask themselves to reflect on how things have gone. But as you deliver your final classes and your thoughts turn to all those pressing research deadlines, take a few moments to consider the following:
Have I lived up to my aims?
The pace of academic life is so fast that it is very easy to simply teach your module without giving conscious thought to your aims in delivering them. Use student feedback, both formal and informal, to assess whether you need to make any adjustments to your teaching or to the module itself. Revisit the points made in previous years’ feedback: these should have been addressed, but can nevertheless be useful for spotting recurring problems or patterns of delivery that need to be tweaked.
Am I getting the balance right?
It can be very hard to strike a healthy balance between the often-competing demands of teaching, admin, and research. In term-time the first two often take precedence, not least because there is a live audience waiting for you in a lecture-hall or meeting room nearby. While it may not be wise to burn the candle at both ends in order to address your research agenda during term, keep in touch with it throughout the term so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it when it comes to the post-teaching period.
Don’t be a perfectionist
One of the best pieces of advice I received as an academic was this: ‘don’t get it right, get it written!’ While this may not always apply to research, of course, it is a useful guide when it comes to teaching and admin. If you find you are spending too much time on either of these areas, try taking a more hard-headed approach. Remember – you need to leave time for yourself and your life outside academia as well as all the tasks within it.
What about the bigger picture?
As you reflect on the past term, consider too what has been going on at the macro level in your institution and in HE more generally. It is very easy to get so immersed in the immediate demands of day-to-day teaching and academic life that the larger issues pass you by. Consider what the wider debates have been in HE in the last few months (the TEF is one such issue, for instance, that will have wider implications).
Consider augmenting your skills
The period without teaching both before and after Christmas can be extremely busy for academics, who may be using that time to catch up with research, to plan administrative tasks, and to mark exams and other forms of assessment. But by reflecting on the progress of the year to date you may come to realize that there is a critical area or skill that you need to brush up in – so now is the time to take action, and book yourself on a course in that area.
How can I plan ahead effectively?
Planning ahead is really one of the keys to success in academia. It is such a high-pressure job, involving so many different roles and audiences, that it can stretch even the most organized and conscientious of individuals. Relieve some of the pressure on yourself by making sure you are at least several weeks (if not more) ahead of any teaching in the following semester. Anticipate any likely periods when things get tight (exam marking deadlines; external commitments; research deadlines; grant application periods) and try to build your schedule around these. These patterns will become clearer over time. But whether you are just starting out, or an old hand, the end of the first term is an excellent time to review those patterns and to start making plans for the remainder of the academic year.