The beginning of the school year is always exciting for me. I really feel like it is the beginning of a new year. I actually have a hard time feeling excitement for the real New Year (sometimes, I’m working on this) because August has always felt like a new year and January mainly feels like a break. August provides a clean slate! So how can you take that clean slate and make the best of it? I have four recommendations on how to make your next academic year your best year ever.
1. Review Past Goals
With the start of a new school year it’s the perfect time to review your past goals. Take a critical eye and think about these goals. Do you have goals left over from the previous year? Are you still excited about your goal? Are you making good progress? If you are making good progress, great! But if you are stalled, what is holding you back? What is getting in the way? Do you need to revise your goal or get help? Now is the time to really think about this and set yourself up for success. The academic year is short and we have plenty of goals! I tell my students all the time, goals should not feel like punishments or painful reminders of what you did not accomplish, they are roadmaps for you. They tell you how you will spend your time and where you should put your energy.
2. Plan Your Semester
Before you start school, plan your semester and academic year. Think about what you want to accomplish and set out a plan to get your stuff done! I learned how to plan my semester (and my life) from Kerry Ann Rockquemore. I participated in one of the early Faculty Success Programs and have been using the ideas/strategies I have learned ever since. I have been fortunate to see the transformation in my life and the lives of others (yes, I recommend her all the time). If you can’t participate in one of her programs, there are so many other sources. My favorite book for new faculty is Robert Boice’s book Advice for New Faculty it covers many of the issues faculty face in the transition into tenure-track careers. One of my other favorites to recommend to students is by Robert Peters, Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or Ph.D. I wish I had this book earlier in my graduate career. It really demystified the graduate school process for me and academic culture (more on that later).
By planning your goals, you can be realistic with your plans and goals, set yourself up for success, and get back on track if you stumble.
3. Build a Community of Support
Make sure that you tell people about your goals and your plans for the semester (although Derek Sivers might disagree). Bring people in so that they can a) help you with your goals or b) help you be accountable to your goals. Sometimes we think that people are successful all on their own. They are stars because they just work hard and get things done. Maybe there are people like that. I don’t know them, I know the people who have mentors and who reach out to people for help. These folks connect their goals/dreams with people who can motivate them or help them to get there. You should be sure to do the same! Want to be more productive this semester with writing? Find a writing group on campus (or form one), join a program on campus or off campus (like Faculty Success Program or Academic Ladder), or ask a colleague to meet you once a week to write together.
If you are student and you want to meet a goal of preparing to graduate school (now is the time by the way) or you want to be sure you graduate this year. Tell people, your advisor (if you don’t have one, get one!—more on that later), tell your friends, tell your family—they will all be sources of accountability whether they mean to or not. Just knowing that you told them might help you feel like you have to reach that goal. But also find support for these goals, get involved with student affairs activities (my campus has a lot of workshops on applying to graduate school) and we have several programs (McNair and MARC USTAR) that are dedicated to one goal—getting students to graduate school. Again, just look for support. People on campus want to help you reach your goals and they want to help you graduate! Most people anyway, so find those people!
4. Have Fun
Remember that whether you are a tenure-track professor or a student, school should be fun! It’s the only place I know where people get paid to read and write and where people talk about ideas and dreams and problems. It’s the only place where you can meet a diverse group of people and have your ideas challenged and changed on a daily basis. For me, working with 120 students a year almost guarantees that my ideas will challenged on a daily basis. While some might find this exhausting (and even I do at times), it can also be pretty exciting. School should be fun for faculty and students! Sometimes we forget to have fun because we are overwhelmed with work or deadlines or problems from our lives, that’s just inevitable, but if we are mindful, we can remind ourselves that school can be and should be fun!