Every semester is a fresh start

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One of the upsides of teaching is that you get a fresh new start every term. Who doesn’t like a clean slate? Especially now that 2020 is in the rear view.

Did you put yourself into grading jail for too many hours? Did you get off on the wrong foot with some of your students? Did you have a part of your course that was designed to make simplify life but instead just complicated things? Was there a critical early piece that you felt you didn’t teach well and it kept the course from moving forward as you liked? Well, I’ve got great news: that semester was over. Now, you’ve got a fresh start!

Teaching and learning during the pandemic has been hard on all of us, and it’s pretty clear that things aren’t returning to normal until summer at the earliest. I figure you’ve already figured out a bunch of the things that you want to change, and it’s important to be easy on yourself during what is shaping up to be a semester with almost as many challenges as the last one.


Teaching the same every semester puts you on the pathway towards obsolescence. You don’t have to reinvent yourself, but it takes a bit of effort to stay fresh. Speaking of which, I still have a couple promotional copies of The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching, and would like to put them in the hands of people who would appreciate them. If you don’t have one yet and would like one, leave a comment on this post asking for one of the copies (anonymous is fine), and at the end of this week, I’ll randomly select two people and pop them in the post.


As an aside, a personal update about the me and this site: I’ve been quiet here for quite a while now, and you might have noticed that I barely posted in December. That’s because things have been really hard. I’ve had a variety of personal struggles, among other things, including a death in the family a few weeks ago, and I simultaneously have had a lot of moving pieces to juggle for work. You might recall that I’ve been assigned to direct my university’s fledgling Office Of Undergraduate Research, which means I’m not busy wrestling with Canvas or curriculum this year, but it turns out that being in charge of this kind of thing during a pandemic doesn’t seem to be any less difficult. I think I’ve managed to keep my head above the metaphorical water because I’ve had the wisdom to pause a variety of things (such as this site), and also, I’m a buoyant guy. In 2021, I’ll still be writing here, probably plenty more than last year, because gosh, I hope things get better. I now have taken an honest two weeks of pure time off, which hopefully has done me some good. I do have a few genuinely fun professional things on the horizon, so I’m looking forward to those things.

9 thoughts on “Every semester is a fresh start

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss and your struggles. I hope things get better for you soon.

    I’d love to hear more about how you’re managing with the UG research director stuff during the pandemic. I have some oversight of undergraduate research in STEM in my admin role, and you’re right that it’s really hard right now! Particularly with the continued uncertainty for what the summer will look like (and, perhaps, some magical thinking on the part of faculty and students….). I’d love to hear what you’re doing that works (or works well enough), what you and your institution struggle with, etc.

    • While I’ve had training and familiarity with Offices of Undergraduate Research, I’m still relatively new to running one full-time, and I only was able to hire a full-time staff member after the pandemic started (for a university with enrollment of 16,000, running this office on my own means that not much can get done). So I can’t really say about how much I’ve adapted to things, because this was supposed to be the year that my office was really going to ramp up operations. So now, we’re just ramping up in a different way. We’ve focused on getting more useful information on our website, and running a bunch of workshops that we’ve recorded and made available on our site, with information targeting our student population. And I’ve set up a calendly for students to make appointments with me about any kind of question about getting research opportunity, applying to grad school, and so on. We have students who have been at the university for a whole year now but have never stepped a single foot on campus yet! And so they’re kind of disconnected to opportunities and don’t feel really part of the institution, and I’ve done my best to support these students when they come my way. We found some funding to pay to fund several students over the summer, because so many people had REUs cancelled or couldn’t get into one because of the pandemic.

  2. First off, my condolences for your loss. Letting go of a loved one is the hardest thing to go through regardless of race, age, creed, belief system, historical context including our unique one, etc. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    I’m looking forward to the increases posts and would love a copy of your book. I’m a biomedical research postdoc with a bit of teaching experience and an interest in pivoting to teaching and I’d love to learn more. Also…and I swear I’m not making this up…it’s my birthday :-)

  3. Would love to be considered for a promotional copy of your new book. Teaching research science well is so important to me! Thank you and have a terrific Spring semester. I’m so glad to hear that you have some fun professional happenings in the near future.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about your loss, and about your struggles. 2020 was rough. But glad to read you’ve made it through to the start of a new semester.
    I share your sentiments with new semester = fresh start, and that you don’t have to reinvent yourself completely. I’ve been doing some reflection to figure out what to keep and what to tweak/ditch. And I finally looked at the student evals and they were a whole lot better than I feared 😅

  5. Deepest condolences on your loss. Let’s all hope 2021 is a better year for all of us. I would love to get a copy of your book.

  6. Hi Terry,

    I want to thank you first for sharing your struggles in teaching this semester, as well as your continued generosity in your blogging. As a fellow writer myself, I know it can be hard to consistently show up.

    Last semester was also my first time doing any sort of teaching as a graduate student. I can definitely empathize with some of the difficulties you felt. I would be interested in one of your promotional copies, and I suspect it would be useful in the future for my teaching.

    Finally, I’m sorry to hear about the personal losses. I hope 2021 proves to be better.

    Thanks again for your work, and I look forward to keep on reading!

  7. Sorry about your loss. Thanks for the encouraging words! I would love a copy of your book.

  8. I’m sorry about your difficulties, Terry, and I hope 2021 brings unbridled triumphs and joy. I’ve been on sabbatical, so I’m wondering if my returning to teach in the Fall will be a shock to the system, or if teaching will be normal(ized) by then (and still a shock to the system, just not a shock while masked and at a distance).

    Please place me in the lottery for a promotional copy of The Chicago Guide to College Science Teaching!

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