December 26, 2013

How to Get the Most Out of Your Break

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

As one semester ends and the break begins, we all tend to drop everything, fall over, and sleep for awhile. Whether it’s winter, summer, fall, or spring break, we celebrate the end of studying and doing the work of higher education.

You may not think that professors do the same but we, too, enjoy the change in work schedules and patterns. We take time off even though most of us keep prepping our classes and thinking of ways to advance our research and/or teaching goals.

I’d like to offer some suggestions for making the most of a break – so that you detox from the one semester and get ready for the next.

1.      Once you wrap up your work for the semester, take a break. Put away the work, step outside and breathe in some fresh air. Read a non-fiction book. Watch some goofy television. Make something with your hands. Exercise. Get some sleep. Post something funny or inspiring on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. Take a trip. Visit a museum or local site that you haven’t yet made time to see. Stop and smell the roses. (You get the idea…)

2.      Be social with your family and friends – especially those whom you did not see much during the semester. Renew your social ties and share what you learned with them. Schoolwork can be isolating so it’s important to keep your social networks intact and vibrant. You may disappear from someone’s life during the semester  but you should reappear during the break – if you want to keep that relationship going.

3.      Don’t throw away your work from the semester. Winnow it down to essentials and save it somewhere, in a notebook, or electronically. You may need some of that work someday. Seriously. You may need to clarify the work you did in case something happens with the campus records. You may want to refer to it in a future class. I advise my Statistics students to hold on to everything until they are done with their advanced degrees – only then should they ceremoniously burn it, should they decide to do so.

4.      You’ve probably already enrolled in the coming semester (unless you’ve graduated – congratulations!) Find out what books are assigned and make sure you get them before the semester begins. Professors don’t usually mind answering such questions and if they’ve set up a class website, accessing that info is probably as simple as an email link. Once you get the books, thumb through them but don’t make judgments about their content. The class is for taking you through them; don’t assume that your professor will agree or wholeheartedly support everything in the book. I often “argue” or “debate” with the textbook authors whose work I assign.

5.      If you weren’t successful in setting up your classes for the next semester because classes were full, email the professors whose classes you want to add. I make my waiting lists based on who emails me – it has a time and date stamp that both professor and potential student have. Be respectful and patient, especially if the professor doesn’t email you back right away. (If your campus has another policy on adding, follow it as well!)

6.      Review what you learned in your classes last semester if only just before the semester starts, and especially if the courses are related in some way. Your education depends on building on previous learning, thus forgetting what you learned last semester will not help you do better the next semester. For example, if you took Introduction to Sociology, use what you learned about social structure, groups, organizations, race, class, and gender, as you move through life and into the next semester. Keep that sociological imagination alive by using it!  

7.      Writing an ongoing academic journal helps this process. Devote one journal (or computer file) to notes you periodically write based on using what you’ve learned. When you see something in the world that reminds you of something from a class, write it down. When you find yourself thinking of something from class, start writing about it. The act of writing is different from the act of thinking; when we write, sometimes we tell ourselves things we know that we didn’t even think about. Re-read this journal periodically – and write about what you got from that re-reading if something new comes to mind.

8.      As the break comes close to ending, gear up for the semester by getting used to your new schedule. If your earliest class is at 8, start waking up by 6 or 7, depending on travel time to your classes. If your earliest class is at 10 or 11, waking up won’t be as much of an issue but getting up and out may be. Trying to acclimate to a new schedule – especially if it’s earlier than you’re used to – can be difficult if you wait for the first day of school. You’ll have enough to get used to that first week so make sure you’re awake and on time on day one. This reminds me of this Open Culture posting showing the daily patterns of philosophers, including Marx and Nietzsche. While their schedules were not necessarily balanced or healthy, they certainly found a routine in which to get their work done!

9.       If you will be using some new technology, don’t wait until the semester starts to learn how it works. Make sure the new gadget will help your educational process, not hinder it. Download all the apps you may want to use to keep on track and learn how they work. Evernote and similar apps are great for keeping resources that you may use in classes or your work. Course Smart and other apps may actually give access to your textbooks. The course management system your campus uses may have their own app and if your class has an online presence, you may get access to your class, sometimes before the semester starts.

1      If you graduated or are taking a break from taking classes, you can do many of these things to recharge your batteries. Be sure to use what you’ve been learning; take it with you into whatever you will be doing. Whether it’s an occupation based on your major or a job to get you through the next phase of your life, embrace it, learn from it, and practice using that sociological perspective to help identify barriers and solutions.

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