Getting Started (Again)

by lowepj33

Like a not-always reliable correspondent, it’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this page, and so perhaps this post is both an update and a mix of thoughts on the time of year. I suppose not posting anything in August is entirely in keeping with being ‘on holiday’, and there have certainly been some very pleasant days in the past month that have had nothing to do with work. Sitting at The Oval on 17th August and watching England breeze through the Indian batting line up was certainly a highlight, and on the strength of this qualified revival in the test side’s fortunes I’ve been lured into the ballot for 2015 Ashes tickets in a mood of some optimism. Furthermore, a largely warm and sunny summer (by the standards of the South coast) has been very welcome.

As August drew to a close, though, I noticed that tweets from other academics increasingly came to refer to the need to ‘squeeze’ more out of the final weeks of the summer, as though the upcoming start of term was, once again, a reminder of how grand plans for all kinds of projects were perhaps not as realised as the writer hoped when those plans were made. I’m certainly aware of this myself: a overly-optimistic pile of books I fully intended to read, set next to those that I actually did, would look like a skyscraper beside a 2-storey house. Some things were written; others not so, and with the ever more numerous influx of admin-themed emails – the equivalent, in the last weeks of summer of the ‘Back to School’ shop window displays that drive teachers to distraction – it was hard to avoid a sense of urgency, and perhaps on some level nagging guilt at things not quite as ‘done’ as they could have been.

Of course, the start of term is hectic. New students fill the seminar rooms and queue up outside of one’s office, and getting courses up and running always takes time and effort. Learning names is always one of my challenges, which I usually deflect by asking students not to take it personally if I think for a fortnight that they should be called something else. And in the course of this, managing to write an abstract or keep a day clear for a library visit feels like quite the achievement.  Research heads to the ‘back burner’ almost as a matter of course.

At the same time, though, what feels like the ‘end’ of summer is also the start of a new year.  I know that 1st January is when we all put a new calendar on the wall, but I’d wager that for anyone in the education system 1st Jan doesn’t feel all that ‘new’ so much as half-way through something else (insert dodgy football season analogy here).  These weeks, I’d suggest, are when the year gets started, and it’s always good to meet new colleagues and students, to hear what other people have been up to over the summer, to think about what we all want to do between now and Christmas.  If it’s hectic, it’s hopefully interesting, and maybe even energising at the same time.  By and large, students are excited about being at university (OK, it might rub off as the term goes on, but let’s try to keep the initial mood here!) and rather than think of what I’ve not yet got around to doing I’m trying to think, like many of them, of what I could do in the weeks ahead.  Goals might be a little more modest, but not unreachable.  It’s too late now to squeeze more research out of the summer, but the autumn is another matter, surely.