New Semester’s Resolutions

This is the time of year when everyone is back on a diet or the treadmill, calling loved ones frequently, saving money, etc. We are all looking back on last year and deciding what we need to change, do better, do more of, etc. I think professors and academics think in terms of semesters, rather than years, so I thought I would share some of my new semester’s resolutions, and I invite readers to share their own in the comments below.

  1. Do more research. I know this is probably something even people who get a lot of research done think. I mean, after all, you can always do more research. But I found myself on the verge of not doing any research at all last semester. Except for editing some stuff I had already written and getting it ready for submission, I didn’t even look at my own math. And part of my resolution is to figure out how to look at new problems while in the middle of a semester. I teach two to three classes per semester, which is a lot compared to most postdocs, but actually quite reasonable compared to most teaching jobs. So I should be able to (and I’m expected to) do more than I am currently doing. I realize that in large part it’s just natural to focus on the urgent and on the things other people rely on you for, and by now you figured out I mean teaching. I do realize that the more I teach repeat classes (something I’m prepared to beg for until I get tenure) the less I have to prep. I have also realized a couple of things that I did last semester (which I will describe below) that were time consuming and not that useful.   One piece of advice I got from someone at the Joint Math Meetings (Go read my blog about that if you haven’t yet! Well, and if you feel like it… whatever) was to find collaborators. This way you have people depending on you who are also related to your research!
  2. Do less grading. This is something that took a lot of my time last semester. I was teaching Real Analysis and grading every proof they wrote twice, so it was really exhausting. I also decided to meet with them in small groups to discuss homework problems, since I thought that would save time while grading, but I still gave them detailed feedback on every single thing they did. Also at the Joint Math Meetings (did I already mention I wrote a blog about that?), I got some pretty wise advice on that. In principle, I teach classes using IBL so that they will become independent and learn to be self-sufficient. If you give so much detailed feedback on everything they do, you are actually making them dependent on your point of view anyways (even if you are not lecturing) and making yourself the all-knowing entity that you wanted to avoid becoming by teaching this way in the first place. Anyway, in my Complex Analysis class I am trying to be a little more hands-off, we will see how that goes. I also hired a grader so we can split up the labor somewhat.
  3. Do research and grading more efficiently so I can do fun things, too. I guess this is an item on everyone’s list of resolutions, well, not exactly like I worded it… I mean that time-management is one of those ever-mysterious things. Some people do it well, most people don’t. Contrary to what it sounds like from the previous paragraph, I wasn’t always grading last semester, but I also had absolutely no energy when I had free time. Also, free time happened at not so convenient times. If you start grading at 4pm, and decide to stop at 8pm, even though there are some useful hours left in the day I almost never want to think about math research or write a paper after four hours of grading. I usually didn’t feel like going out to eat with my friends or going to the movies after that, either. Later in the semester I realized that was the time I should have gone to the gym and blow off some steam. The amount of work I have to do each week doesn’t really change, but I need to figure out a way to balance everything out better, so I can do what I have to do, and have time and energy left to do fun and/or healthy things (socialize, work out, cook food, read a book, write my blog posts, etc).

I can’t really think of more resolutions at this time (although I probably will soon enough), but I feel like that is a pretty hefty list already. But to blow my own horn for a second (OK, for another second) I think so far it’s going well. Of course, it’s only the second week of the semester, but I graded homeworks this afternoon with my grader (we were done in like an hour and a half!), I finally submitted the paper I was working on last semester, I’ve seen my friends and cooked good food, and I’m writing a blog post!  Of course, the thing about resolutions is that you have to stick to them. Now that I have publicly divulged my plans, I hope this will shame me into following them.

So how about you? What lessons from last year or last semester have guided your resolutions? Do you think you’ll stick to them? Any suggestions on how to manage time more efficiently?

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3 Responses to New Semester’s Resolutions

  1. Michelle says:

    Nice post!

    For me, the main problem research-wise is that I appear to be great at starting projects, and not so great at finishing them. I have an ever-increasing list of really cool things I’m thinking about / working on. Then I get overwhelmed because I’m not sure where to focus my time & energy. What if I pick wrong, and that one doesn’t go anywhere?

    So my resolution is to finish several projects and get the papers submitted, and to make finishing as important as starting.

  2. Conor says:

    Wise wise set of resolutions. And Michelle, I am in exactly the same boat as you, and am now thinking that you just pick whichever one is most thrilling to you, and just go do it.

  3. Matilde 127 says:

    My semester resolution is try to relax and enjoy my job instead of stressing out about stuff. Yeah, and give more priority to collaborations with students and postdocs.

    I believe that having coauthors is great for starting projects, and working solo is great for finishing them. So Michelle, you should dump your coauthors (but not all of them).

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