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Switching gears at the start of the school year

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It’s September very soon and back to school. As a university professor this means I move from a summer time focus on research, writing, conferences, and PhD student supervision to a term time focus on teaching, university committees, department talks, and in October especially, more conferences.

And no, we don’t get summers off. Please don’t ever ask professors what we do with our summers. We get four weeks paid vacation and this summer I only managed to take a few days of that. Sigh.

Why do tenured academics work so hard in the summer when, from a certain perspective, we don’t have to? It’s our entrepreneurial work culture, I think, and I’ve blogged about that over at Pea Soup.

But back to September when the university term busyness begins. It’s not that I work more during term time, though I do because the demands of graduate supervision and research and writing continue as well, but the striking difference is who controls my time.

On my summer schedule I write into the night if I feel like it and take the next morning off to go run on the trails with dogs, or ride my bike with friends. I schedule meetings with my doctoral students off campus in nearby coffee shops. It’s still work, and there’s lots of it, but it’s more or less on my terms. It’s a very privileged life and I’m thankful.

But classroom teaching occurs when it best fits the needs of students and my department. Committee meetings are scheduled around my teaching hours. And at the start of the year it feels like there’s barely time to breath, let alone prepare classes and finish writing commitments.

I’m not complaining. I love my job and think that being a professor is one of the best jobs in the world.

What I want to talk about today is how physical activity fits into the picture.

First, I need to note that I’m incredibly lucky to have some very active colleagues. I work in a department of road cyclists, tennis players, runners, climbers, martial artists etc. I like riding my bike with colleagues at lunch hour. Some of us have even run together. And we’re a department that has also gone camping together. There’s photographic evidence here! This is nice because I don’t worry that here in the life of the mind that my focus on the body and movement will be judged.

Second, like Tracy I thrive on routine. I make lists, I have schedules, and I plan my week carefully to include lots of physical activity of all different sorts. This fall it’s Aikido, rowing, CrossFit, riding, and indoor soccer with some hiking and dog-jogging thrown in for good measure. I might even start taking running seriously again when it gets colder and see if I can get faster without injury. You can read about my plans for the year here: Sam takes stock and sets goals one year to go.

Third, for me flexibility is key. Unlike Tracy I don’t usually plan on doing less. Intellectually, I see the virtues but I’m a key person in a really busy active family. I live with a partner, three kids, two dogs, my parents and more. And I’ve got a really BIG job and BIG athletic commitments. Things come up, all the time. I can’t always hold my physical activities against the needs of others. I schedule lots and go in knowing I’ll miss a couple of things a week. And that’s okay with me. I move on to the next thing. I know some people find it immobilizing to miss activities and start feeling demoralized. Tracy writes about that as the downside of routines which generally we both love. But it works for me. I like being busy and I can go with the flow.

See you out there!

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