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New Semester Scaries

By: Madison Danford

As we embark on yet another new semester, the start of a new academic school year, the scaries are creeping in, or at least they are for me. Soon we will be seeing all the first day of school photos circulating on social media, and here I sit, also starting another school year—grade 26! That’s 26 years of schooling, straight through (🤯), and I’m not excited for the first time in those 26 years. The first day of school used to symbolize a fresh start, new opportunities, new challenges, new friends, and new growth. I was the eager kid, teen, and young adult who couldn’t wait for the first day of school. However, as a 29-year-old starting another school year, the fourth year of my PhD, I feel overwhelmed with nerves, anxiousness, and pressure; I have so much to do. That dreadful question graduate students love to get asked has been the topic of conversation lately “when are you going to be finished?” and that has been looming over me. When am I going to be finished? When am I going to get a job? When will I no longer have the first day of school? I have no idea what the answer is to any of those questions.  

Rather than getting caught up in those dreaded questions and the fear of not knowing the answer, I’m trying to start this new semester by making a list of all the things I want to do, as opposed to all the things I have to do, both personally and academically. Yes, I have to do many things, but that’s when the scaries creep in the most. So, this school year, I am focusing on the wants rather than the have to’s. For instance, I want to read more non-academic books this year. I want to tackle the stack of books on my nightside table for fun and not feel guilty when I crack open a historical fiction or trashy crime novel, not the political economy book I need to read. I want to finish the first draft of a manuscript that’s been open on my desktop for months. I want to put two hours aside each week to write, not because I have to, but because I want to. This semester I want to learn new ways to engage my students, try different pedagogical techniques, and advance my skill set. I want to stop focusing on the hyper-competitive nature of academia and having to work 24-7 to get ahead mentality. I want to love my dissertation again, and that first day of school feeling I’ve had 25 times.

I’m challenging myself to turn have to into want to this academic year. I want to get a lot done but enjoy the experience instead of simply going through the motions. You’re not alone if you are struggling with the end of summer blues or the new semester scaries. Let’s not let the dreadful when are you graduating type questions, and the never-ending to-do list keeps us from enjoying the journey. I mean, we’re a select group who can say they’re starting ‘grade 20+’ each year, and I want to embrace that this new semester!

So, what do you want to do this year?

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