December 8th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Academic Cycles

The semester starts slowly. After the frenzy of orientation, the semester drifts into its groove. In the first few weeks, there's reading to do, some homework, nothing major, unless the class involves presentations or exams. By the time it's halfway through, the campus is busy with talks, lectures, conferences, visiting dignitaries. There are so many options, so many things to do! Yet, mid-semester is also when then real work hits. Deadlines crop up. Mid-semester exams. And neither the visiting lecturers, nor the work volume, really slacks off until the holidays, and by then, attendance at both classes and lecturers provide diminishing returns. Ultimately, they can't compete with final paper deadlines on which grades depend.

This semester, I've been out of the loop, writing at home. It's been relaxing not to be a part of the stress cycle. I have my deadlines, but they are only marginally related to everyone else's. I've been following it second-hand through other peoples' journals and weblogs.

Today, I briefly dipped back into the final whirlwind of the semester. A recently-graduated member of my cohort, Dr. Sidoli, gave a colloquium on Ptolemy's mathematics. The audience numbers were respectable, but thinner than they could be - an end-of-the-semester crowd. The usual cookies afterwards were cancelled - they conflicted with the greater allure of the Victoria College holiday party downstairs, where attendees were fêted with finger sandwiches, elegant cookies, and punch in elegantly shallow stemware. Over a ball of chocolate ganache, I chatted with old departmental friends and professors. They were all preoccupied with other things: the prospect of a sabbatical semester; the enormous pile of papers waiting to be graded; looming dissertation deadlines on top of exam proctoring to do; final paper deadlines; exams to take. The prospect of high-quality free food lured them more readily to a party than to a lecture, but they are still caught in the end-of-term turmoil and exhaustion. Vacation can't come too soon.