Starting the New Semester Off Right

The start of the semester is a new beginning- a chance to start over with better study habits, a new routine, and a range of new classes, teaching, and research possibilities. If your good habits started to slip at the end of last semester, here are some suggestions for how to start off the new semester right.

  • Refocus on what matters the most.

If you (like me) are still in the first few years of your program and are focused mainly on taking courses, recommit your attention to your study habits. Start out by scheduling more time than usual to work on homework. Find study partners to help make your work time more productive and more enjoyable; working with friends is often more fun and more useful than working alone.

If you have moved on to focusing on research, get back to treating it like a full-time job. Schedule hours during which you need to focus on your work every day, and hold yourself to the commitment, possibly by keeping track of your productive hours in a daily log, or by working around friends to keep each other focused.

  • Get excited about teaching.

If you have a teaching assignment this semester, get excited about this opportunity to reach out to a new group of students and help them through their next math course. Although you will be devoting most of your time to your research and classes, the new semester poses an opportunity to improve your teaching, too. Come to your first few classes overly prepared with your lessons planned out and extra problems in mind in case your lesson runs shorter than expected. Review the material you’ll be covering so you are prepared for any questions that come your way, and remember to have fun! Teaching is a great opportunity to remember how much fun math can be.

  • Remember to commit time to seminars.

If you began last semester attending your seminars regularly but gradually became busier and began skipping more frequently, take this new semester as a chance to start over. Look at the schedule of seminars offered this semester and add a few to your weekly schedule. Treating these as a course you must attend will help make participating in this social event a habit that you maintain throughout the semester. Remember that seminars are fun- these are a chance to spend time with the other people in the department whose interests mirror your own and to gain inspiration and encouragement from them, all while learning about a subject that interests you.

  • Save time for yourself.

Just as important as refocusing on your work is remembering to prioritize yourself and your needs. If last semester began to overwhelm you and work started to eat up your free time, start fresh by scheduling in time for yourself this semester. Whether that means planning time to exercise, to make a good meal for yourself, or to spend some time away from math with your friends, remember that taking care of your mental health is an important part of being successful in graduate school. Taking some time off to unwind will help you to be more productive and focused when you should be working. Of course, it may take a while to find a good balance of work and relaxation this semester, but scheduling in time for what matters most to you in these first few weeks will make you more likely to continue to provide yourself with these opportunities as the semester goes on.

About Emily Heath

I am a first year graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I received my B.A. in Mathematics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and I am interested in Combinatorics and Graph Theory.
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