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Strong Start to the Semester

Those lazy hazy days of summer are over again. Didn’t it seem that they just began a week or so ago? The fall semester is upon you and if you are like most professors, you are feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed. When I was a full time professor, my colleagues and I joked about waking up in cold sweats with pre-semester nightmares about arriving for class in our pajamas or showing up in the wrong building or teaching a class of students who rudely ignored the teacher. To calm some of your back-to-school jitters, take a few moments to plan how to have a strong start to the semester with your goals clearly in mind and your work life organized enough to feel confident and hopeful about a good semester.

Teaching Strong Starts

As a teaching faculty member you have two tasks that will make your semester start strong: a well-prepared syllabus, and a good first class.

A well-prepared syllabus has these elements:

A strong start to a great first class includes:

Research Strong Starts

One area of feeling overwhelmed for most faculty is how to find time for scholarly work while still being prepared for class. For a strong start in your research role, block out writing appointments with yourself as though you were committed to a class hour at that time. When you were a student, if you were a smart student, you took your class schedule and then blocked in class preparation time around your classes. Similarly, as a smart professor you will want to sit down with your schedule, fill in with your classes and add class preparation and grading. Plug in your office hours including electronic office hours, those announced times when you promise your students you will deliver prompt replies to their emails. Then reserve time for standing meetings such as with your graduate students or committees. You should still have about 15 hours across the week to work on your research and writing. If you don’t, you may be spending your class preparation time ineffectively or perhaps you have overcommitted to service work.

If you have problems with staying on target with your research commitments, find accountability outside of yourself until you can build better habits.

Community Building Strong Starts

Many professors fail to consider that part of their job is building good relationships with colleagues, administrators and students. While tenure application do not ask, “Are you a popular cool kid that others like?,” your social intelligence skills impact your career in more subtle ways.


Get a strong start to the semester and it will be a great one.

© Copyright 2008 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Susan Robison, PhD.; 3275 Font Hill Drive; Ellicott City, MD 21042 Voice: 410-465-5892; E-mail: Website:

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