At the end of the second academic term
The second and last term of the French academic calendar has finally come to an end and with it a phase so intense that I did not event manage to think of blogging. There are many aspects of my life as a newly appointed professor though that would have deserved a “live” comment I wasn’t able to deliver – much to my discomfort, as I remember how helpful blogging had been when I became a junior research group leader. Back then, blogging was a way of not running behind the train, but keep walking a little bit ahead of it. For this year, it mostly felt like I had to read the locomotive’s driving instructions and drive it at the very same time.
Among the things that required on the fly adaptation, the academic calendar itself turned out to be a challenge. The first term starts at the same time as the school year (early September), but it then took half of the term to have definitive student enrolment figures and timetables. The term ends with a week of exams before the Christmas break, and a week of exams after the Christmas break. A week later, the new terms starts and ends at the end of April. May is the month when we hire new colleagues (the procedure takes place at the same period for universities in the whole country) and in June we will be struggling with final exams and oral examinations of Master’s students, so that it really comes up to about a month and a half for vacations, preparing new classes, and doing some research done, between July 10th and August 20th, when the new academic year gets started.
It turned out to be difficult to impossible not to get absorbed by day-to-day administrative problems additionally to the teaching, and get to something like a big picture or a vision. This I managed only at the price of many half-slept nights. In the end, I think it was worth the difficult weeks/months, but clearly not everybody is fit (or stubborn enough) for a fight like this one. One has to know very clearly what the goal is to begin with and keep micro-management issues at a minimum of annoyance. Still, even this minimum can be extremely bothering at times – and prevent from sleeping.
Then it so happened that I came back to France at a point where French University is not doing well: with ever rising student numbers, the amount of appointed academic staff to teach and orient them is getting lower and lower, and budget for hiring stable staff still sinking. Being in a discipline with very low student enrolment numbers, it is difficult to justify one’s raison d’être towards colleagues trying to deal with 15 to 20 times more students. Finding one’s place in a University is probably never very easy; I loved-hated my discipline (German Studies) more than ever this year while trying to shape my place and role.
Being a full-time academic teacher has been a source of enrichment as well as of frustration over the year. This is what I will blog about first in the coming days: things I tried out and how I would like to improve them, things I haven’t tried yet and how I would like to implement them. After that, I will blog about being an international academic hybrid and having spent too much time in the German academic system to be at ease in the French one. And after that – only after that – will I tell you about the scallops and the goat cheese from the Saturday morning farmer’s market.