Planning your semester

A while ago I wrote a post that outlined how I plan my year. In that post I described how I set up my calendar to prepare myself for the year and I recommend going back and checking that out.

Today I wanted to focus on a slightly smaller scale: the semester. However, some people may prefer to do quarterly planning (i.e., Q1 = January, February, March etc.). Both are roughly around the same length of time.

During my PhD, a few weeks before the next semester started I would sit down and take stock by asking myself a few questions.

What is my current progress on my PhD?

I would look at how much I had written, how many chapters I had completed, how many studies I was in the middle of running etc. If you can’t face reality, then you can’t plan to fix it. I would look at how many studies I still needed to run, chapters I needed to write, etc, and write a list of things that I would ideally want to have done by the end of the semester. Would these studies require an ethics application? Could I use an existing application and just submit an amendment? Do I need to design a study from scratch or am I just modifying something I’ve already done? Can I finish one chapter this semester and start another?

How much teaching am I doing?

I would look at how many units I was going to be teaching on and assess the potential workload. How many hours a week of teaching would that be? How many extra hours of prep? Was it a new course that I hadn’t taught on before (much more prep) or something I had been teaching on for years (much less prep)? How many assignments would I need to mark? When are they due? How many assignments would I be marking simultaneously?

On a piece of paper (or an excel sheet) I would write the weeks of the semester across the top of the page and each row would represent a unit. I would put in blocks representing marking for each assignment. This was just a really rough idea to see if there was much crossover in marking time. I knew that when I was marking assignments, it can be difficult to focus on writing.

Once I had this written down, I had a better idea if I had overcommitted already. At this point I would often contact the unit convenor and say “I am happy to mark for assignment 1 but I’ll need help with assignment 2”. Getting this sorted way in advance was great not only for my peace of mind but for the unit convenor as well. It is better to underpromise and overdeliver. I would rather swoop in and mark extra assignments that weren’t expected of me than crumble at the finish line and beg for help.

Do I have any other commitments?

I would list down any other commitments I had this semester. For example, serving on committees, additional research work etc.

Putting it altogether

At this point I would look at my rough excel sheet (or piece of paper) and see where the gaps between teaching were. Then I would look at my list of research I wanted to complete and see what was realistic. Again, my motto was under promise and overdeliver. I would make a few goals that were realistic and achievable and add one extra “if I can it would be great to also do this” goal.

I found that just sitting down and having an entire semester’s commitments in front of me helped me to handle it all and make the best use of my time. I have glossed over a few things in order to give a general overview, but this is my rough process. 

Do you go through a similar process? If you do something different, I would love to hear about it.

– Alessa

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