Unless your university operates on a quarter system, most North American post-secondary educational institutions have three semesters: Fall, Spring, and Summer.
Depending on one’s objectives and life circumstances, some of these semesters are better than others for administration, faculty, staff, and students.
As a faculty member, if I had to choose which semester that I like the least, I’d probably say it’s the spring.
Why? As the gloomy days of winter pass, and are slowly replaced by periods of rain and drizzle, and emerging sunshine, and as we get over the spring break, the days seem longer, and more burdensome. Why? Faculty members typically have more obligations during this time of the year.
What sorts of obligations do faculty encounter during the Spring?
On top of the normal demands like eating, sleeping, walking the dog, and being nice to other people, if you have young children then it’s the need to be physically present at end of year piano recitals, school plays, and parent teacher conferences. Then there are the field trips that you are guilted in to chaperoning. And hopefully you’ve got summer camp or a summer vacation all planned out and did not leave this to the last minute. Cuz like that’s not going to eat up any time.
Then there are the other kinds of things like filing taxes, a need to be present at Easter or Passover dinners.
That’s just the normal shit.
On the academic side of the house, by comparison, you would think that up until this semester research, teaching and service obligations have been a cakewalk. But things are about to change.
During the spring academics are typically faced with an overwhelming number of mind numbing professional obligations and deadlines including:
• Students are graduating and thus there are assignments, exams, and essays to grade, masters and doctoral dissertations to read, and final grades to calculate and submit.
• Some learned societies hold their annual meeting in the spring.
• Many of the conferences that are happening in the fall want you to submit your abstracts during the spring.
• Committee work to wrap up.
• A signifiant number of granting bodies require research grant applications during the Spring semester.
• Then there are the countless productivity, conflict of interest, and planning documents that your administration wants you to complete.
This need for bureaucratic accountability often butts up against a hurry up and wait scenario. It feels almost like a conspiracy. You know deep down that despite warnings that many people who will be reviewing these documents will not be on campus during the summer, and if you don’t fill out the forms then you might be denied merit pay (if there is any in the budget this year), few people in the chain of command are going to read those reports until they have cleared their inboxes, and you don’t want to be bugged by your chair in July to submit the information anyways.
During this period, long awaited doctor and dentist appointments, that you had a full intentions of attending get cancelled, diets are abandoned, and exercise plans are thrown out the window as all-nighters accumulate. This almost always results in unwanted stress.
It’s not just you but your students, fellow professors, university staff and administrators feel the heavy weight of spring semesters too. Just like you they are more stressed and down in the dumps than ever.
What are some remedies to this state of affairs?
Well, first of all you are not alone. If that piece of information does not assist you then, you may feel better knowing that unless you will be teaching in the summer (which I strongly advise against), then you have a couple of months off where you can recuperate.
If you are struggling with grading then, you should give yourself periodic breaks, or play tricks with grading (i.e., give yourself number of assignments to grade each day).
Alternatively, you might experiment with playing games with writing commitments. (hitting a target number of words per day
At the end of the summer, plan to get out of town, as in take a vacation. If you can’t swing it, then go to for a drive, or visit a gallery or museum, as many times as you can.
Finally, politely and professionally encourage your administration to distribute the need for faculty to complete accountability related reports throughout the year, and not just during the spring semester. They will probably offer polite excuses why changing things up is like moving heaven and earth. But at least maybe your efforts will make you feel like you are doing something positive to improve your work conditions.
Photo Credit: Jesper Sehested