Fall has arrived in Ann Arbor. And for those of you who live in the academic world, you know that I don’t just mean the season. After a sweltering week of high humidity (our windows fogged over one night thanks to the hot, steamy air), the heat broke last night, giving way to chilly football weather. I’m sitting in my office chair next to a breezy open window, warming my rear with a heating pad and drinking steamy coffee in an effort to both ease the pain in my rebellious running hips and warm myself through.
But when I say fall has arrived, I’m not referring to the chill in the air. It’s the first day of everything here in Ann Arbor. First day of school for my tutoring kiddos and all public school children aged 5-18 in the greater Detroit area. First day of classes, teaching, and semester chaos for my friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan. For my entire life, the beginning of fall has been filled with excitement. That first day of classes is always thrilling, whether you’re meeting a classroom full of future teachers or walking into your first graduate course. You’re anticipatory. nervous. excited. terrified.
For me? Today is the first day of nothing. Which is WEIRD.
Well, it’s the first day of my fall fellowship, I suppose. The same fellowship I’ve been on all summer. The fellowship that requires me to get my damn work done, and that’s pretty much it.
Don’t misunderstand me, please — I am so very grateful that I attend a university and am part of a program that affords me the luxury to sit at home today in front of my computer, reading and re-reading and re-reading my interview and observation data, thinking deeply and writing reflectively about teaching and technology. Few graduate students are afforded this opportunity, and I thank my lucky stars every day for the support and encouragement I am given — both funding and academic — to pursue this PhD at UM.
However, none of that takes the edge off of the weirdness that is today. For the past 25 years of my life, the beginning of fall has meant the beginning of something new and exciting. 100+ new students filtering into my freshman English classes. The start of my master’s work. My first college class. My first day of high school.
But today, as classes start at UM and everyone on campus feels the electric charge of a new semester, I sit in my home office. Feeling weird. Like I need to be somewhere. But I don’t. I’ve checked my calendar like twenty times.
And I realize that if I’m to make this fall a successful one, I need to create my own beginnings, my own goals for the semester. So here they are: publicized, to hold me accountable. And to make me feel as though something is beginning, even if today looks a heck of a lot like last Tuesday, and like the Tuesday before that.
This is the start of a semester when I will (in this order. maybe.):
- define major themes in my dissertation data
- decide which major themes will become chapters in my dissertation
- code data based on major thematic findings
- check my interpretations of themes with my participants
- write my methods chapter
- begin revisions of my literature review and theoretical framework chapter(s?)
And because all academic goals need to be balanced with non-academic goals, I will also (not in this order):
- run a marathon
- train the dog to put away her toys
- throw an Oktoberfest party
- throw a Halloween party
- celebrate with family (not my place to say who yet, but someone’s getting married)
- sleep a lot and eat well (see #1)
- write four awesome posts for GradHacker
- write two awesome posts for Rackham
- keep up with my other two blogs
I know there are more non-academic goals, but the academic ones are scary, and I know each one will take significantly longer than, say, “throw a party.” Though training the dog to put away her toys might take me the better part of a month…
Despite the fact that I feel extremely weird today, I’m going to embrace the beginning of a new semester and get down to work. I hope everyone enjoys their own first days, in all their excitement, anticipation, and terror. As sad as many of you may be to see summer go, know that days like today are precious in their own strange way. They’re easier to miss than you might think.