Seminar papers are completed, grades are in, and it’s time to relax after a hectic fall semester. Once you’ve slept, visited family and friends, binge-watched Netflix, slept, read everything on the internet, and slept some more, here are some tips for ways to make productive use of the winter break and set yourself up for success in the Spring semester. *
*If you are studying for exams or currently on the job market, your winter break will look a little different, but some of these tips will still be valuable.
5 things to do over winter break:
- Process, process, process–and put it in writing! At a certain point in the semester, the meta-level disappears; there is no reflection, just doing, doing, doing. Use the break to process what you’ve experienced. No two semesters are the same, so whether you are in your first semester of the MA program or your last as a PhD student, ask yourself:
-What was your proudest teaching moment? Your most frustrating?
-What new insights do you have about teaching Lehigh students and/or writing and critical thinking?
-What did you learn this semester about what kind of teacher you are? How does that match the type of teacher you want to be?
-What goals do you have for your spring semester class?
-What research and academic writing skills did you develop over the past 15 weeks? What are your research and writing strengths and weaknesses?
-Did your research area, topic, or questions shift or clarify in response to your coursework/dissertation writing? How will changes in your interests or projects adjust your academic goals?
-Did you become aware of any gaps in your academic knowledge? A theorist you wish you had read? How academic publishing works? How will you fill in the gaps in your understanding?
As you consider these questions and the specific actions that may result from your answers, you may want to record some of your insights. The insights you generate from reflecting on your semester won’t be of much use if you promptly forget them. This is especially true if you are in the English 001 and English 002 cycle. All of your ideas about what you’d like to change for your next English 001 class can end up vanishing after a semester of English 002 and the summer. If you have particularly vivid examples of a class activity or discussion that went well, write up a little paragraph that could become material for a future teaching statement or that you might pull from for a job interview.
2. Read for pleasure! Remind yourself why you love what you love. Gorge yourself on pleasure reading, that may or may not have anything to do with your academic goals. It’s easy to accumulate a list of books you feel as if you must read, but give yourself a break and enjoy reading for its own sake. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. Plus, you never know when a seemingly disconnected book will become the genesis of a new idea, English 002 topic, or research topic.
3. Take care of small professional development tasks. It doesn’t take that long to sign-up for/re-new your MLA membership or join LinkedIn or update your CV and resume, but all of these necessary tasks can get dropped in the midst of the requirements of the more pressing semester schedule. So, take the time to update your materials, find and join necessary profession organizations, catch up on your reading of The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed, work on your professional website, set up an academic twitter account and find scholars to follow–whatever you feel is most important for you to be ready for any upcoming applications or job hunts.
4. Plan and prepare for next semester. What can you do now to help make your spring semester productive and livable? Review your spring schedule and plan out your ideal work times. If you already have syllabi and materials for upcoming classes, order books, print materials, and begin reading (if you have a good note-taking system). Do what you can to prepare for your teaching, getting your syllabus in order, uploading all readings to Coursesite, and writing up assignments or class plans where appropriate. It can be hard to motivate yourself to do these things after a long semester, but your future self will thank you come March.
5. Consider your service obligations. Technically this suggestion is a part of both processing and planning, but service so easily gets forgotten or bumped to last place that it is worth separating out. An academic’s job is a combination of research, teaching, and service, and graduate school is a chance for us to develop our skills and identities in all three areas. And if you don’t plan on continuing in academia, service opportunities often provide you with some of the most transferable skills for other jobs. How did you serve the English department, Lehigh, or the Bethlehem community in the fall? What would you like to do in the spring? Service could be anything from serving on committees to simply attending lectures, workshops and other department gatherings. It might mean taking new graduate students out to coffee, writing a blog post to share your newly-minted knowledge, or finding opportunities to put your social justice principles into action in the Lehigh Valley. Be thinking about what type of support your communities need and what you can best offer to them (in terms of both skills and time). Make it a point to develop your service side even as you grow as a researcher and teacher. Giving back to the community will energize you and your colleagues during the (usually) dark, cold, and long spring semester.
What else do you all do during the winter break? Share your tips for both productivity and relaxation below!