Flowers are blooming in the Boston Public Garden, the Boston Marathon is just around the corner, and if our allergies aren’t hassling us on walks to campus, then the rain is. This can only mean that April has arrived, that cruelest month, in T.S. Eliot's eyes, one so filled with promise yet so uncertain in its present.
As we make a final push to the finish line of spring term (and maybe the marathon!) and set plans for the summer months ahead, we can all benefit from maintaining perspective. To help you do so, here are a few thoughts from our team:
Jordan: Try not to skip class. As the semester approaches its stressful finale, there’s a growing temptation to give ourselves more time to complete our work. But cutting class could have you falling further behind. For example, you may miss crucial insight in what the professor wants to see in the course’s final paper. When you take a class, you’re also making professional connections with those who teach it. Nearly perfect attendance is a straightforward way to help ensure those connections stay strong.
Katie: It may feel like we’re rolling down a hill toward the end of term, but there’s still plenty of time left. Beginning things now won’t hurt, though. Take 20 minutes to assess: When are your deadlines? Which tasks should you prioritize? And what can you start a tiny part of, right now? Even a short free-write of term paper ideas or a dissertation chapter outline can prove useful in a few weeks. When you do begin, be confident that you have something new to bring to the proverbial table, because you absolutely do. As Yrsa Daley-Ward writes in The How, “the trick to starting a thing is knowing that no one else has been called to this the same way as you. It doesn’t matter if it seems as though everyone else is doing the same thing. Do not be disheartened by this lie. Your trajectory cannot be compared to that of anyone else.”
Louis: One of the problems that often comes up around this point of the semester is that you’ve covered so much material that it becomes difficult to think through it clearly. If you’re struggling with this, consider taking a visual approach. It may seem trite, but recasting knowledge from the abstract to the material can actually make it easier to deal with. Try making mind maps to assemble all the aspects of the work you’re dealing with: this will clarify what you know of the relationships between these various parts and will allow you to consider the whole thing rapidly. Create index cards that list key terms, concepts, theories, figures, works, etc. and arrange them on your desk or your pinboard. These can be great resources for writing or studying, and there is also something incredibly satisfying about reducing a complex and confusing mass of ideas to a small, manageable set of cards or pieces of paper.
Chris: When preparing for generals, April is not so much a welcome sight as a reminder that time dwindles until the dreaded exams, testing us on (seemingly) all accumulated knowledge in our fields. These exams sometimes entail writing and presenting a paper to your committee–a conference paper, perhaps, or the scaffold for an article or dissertation chapter. If you find yourself scrambling to write something coherent, then consider setting up a mock presentation with others in your cohort (or other interlocutors), which stamps a deadline for you to produce a draft and allows you both to give and receive feedback. While the latter is helpful for your own work, the former challenges you to think like a committee member, and in doing so, to entertain crucial perspectives in the field. Similarly helpful are joint study sessions; my peers and I would meet often to dissect the literature in distinct thematic ways, which forced us to forge connections both obvious and creative, planting the seeds for future research. And no matter how challenging it seems, take solace in the fact that the intense reading and note-taking help to build a critical archive of sources and ideas to which you can return for dissertation chapters, articles, and other projects down the line.
Alex: Academic culture privileges moments of conclusion: papers have been turned in, prizes awarded, grades assigned, laptops shut in victory. While I believe that beginnings and endings help structure our long-term goals, it is also helpful to remember that what you turn in at the end of the semester isn’t that project’s be-all and end-all. That mini-presentation might become a conference presentation; that essay you wrote, an article; and the dissertation, a first book. When you’re on the other side of whatever you need to get done now, you’ll be more aware of where you could take that project next. So for now, don’t sweat it if your writing doesn’t end up quite where you wanted it to. A month from now, you’ll realize that, while the semester may have ended, your project is really just beginning.