Planning Your Academic Year

This is possibly a little late (hello March) but I figure it’s better late than never.

Year 1 as an undergrad I had a paper diary. Studiously, I would put due dates in at the beginning of the semester. During the week I would add important events to the following week (e.g., shifts at work, birthday parties etc) but my field of vision was limited to this week and maybe next week. Occasionally I would turn a page in the diary and to my horror see a due date for a very important assignment that I hadn’t started yet. But this was relatively rare. I was good at keeping all those dates for the semester in my head. The longest I had to plan ahead was a few weeks.

However, as you progress through academia, this system just won’t work. Firstly, because you might not be making the best use of your time and secondly, because I know I just couldn’t keep everything in my head any more. I needed that cognitive space for other things.

So at the beginning of the year, I pull up my Outlook calendar (but some people still love their giant paper wall calendars so I recommend using whatever works) and put in important dates:

  • The weeks of each semester (I typically put each week in as a week-long event from Monday to Friday called “Week 8” or “Week 9” etc.)
  • Due dates for assignments that I will be marking as well as the date the grades will be returned to the students. I will make an event between those two dates called “Marking Assignment X”, so I know it’s an ongoing event at that time
  • The class times and locations that I will be teaching
  • Due dates for ethics applications (at my institution the ethics committee only meet once a month, so it’s handy to know when that is happening)
  • Dates my supervisor is away (to a conference, on leave etc)
  • Conference dates (including submission due dates and actual conference dates)
  • Any regular meeting dates (e.g., I have a regular fortnightly meeting with my supervisor) or once-off meetings I already know that will happen this year (e.g., annual lesson planning meetings)
  • Adding in any public holidays (e.g., Good Friday, Easter Monday etc)
  • The days my timesheets are due (I never want to miss out on being paid because I forgot to submit a timesheet #casuallyemployed)
  • Any important milestones the university my set for me in my program (e.g., Annual Progress Report)
  • Important personal events such as holidays, parties, weddings, birthdays etc. 

For some of the events in my calendar, I don’t want reminders (e.g., telling me what week of semester it is), however for some I may want:

  • a week’s notice (ethics applications due date)
  • 3 days notice (assignment due dates – students will be emailing me a lot then)
  • Just 15 minute’s notice (classes I’m about to teach). 

So I make sure I have all those reminders set up as I’m entering each event into my calendar.

I call this process setting up the skeleton of my life. 

Research can be quite flexible. It can be done at home (e.g., reading papers, writing etc) or in the lab. As a result, it can consume your life or it can be easily ignored when administrative details, marking assignments, and attending meetings take over. 

So, once I have my skeleton set up, I have a better idea of the spaces I can reserve for research. I can start putting flesh on my skeleton. Once I have my year set up, I focus on what my research goals for the year are and start to plan out my semester using a gantt chart… But I’ll save this process for another post.

Have you finished setting up your calendar for the year? Do you have a different approach to planning your year?

– Alessa Teunisse

2 thoughts on “Planning Your Academic Year

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