The final push to get to Thanksgiving break is under way with the last full week of classes prior to the holiday wrapping up. But, among ourselves and in conversations with others, we have found a common theme running through the campus—burnout.
The fall semester at Brandeis offers a lot to students when it comes to being flexible around the High Holidays. Most of our weeks in September and early October are either followed or preceded by three- or four-day weekends. This makes the beginning of the semester feel like a breeze with consistent breaks. While that model promotes student mental health by offering long weekends—and also giving students time off for observing holy days—it pigeonholes the student body into a five-week span with no breaks until Thanksgiving. The toll that this takes on us as students—and on faculty and staff—is considerable. Professors try to double-book midterms during this period to make up for the inconsistency of the four-day weeks in the prior months. Not to mention then professors try to play catch-up in order to make up for time lost to those lovely Brandeis days.
With this rush to cram in material, it inhibits Brandeis students’ ability to give their attention to classes while also focusing on personal development through clubs, activities, jobs and internships. This leads to the phenomenon known all too well by college students across the country as “academic burnout.”
Students who push themselves too hard to meet academic and professional expectations cannot be expected to continue operating at the high level that academics often demand. Particularly on Brandeis’ campus, where nearly half of all students have more than one major (and likely have one or two minors as well), it can be a strenuous task to maintain good academic standing while continuing to work in a multitude of clubs on campus. It is so important that both professors and the academic offices here at Brandeis know that when looking into future fall semesters to allow for breaks within the five-week stretch. This would provide students with the time they need to either catch up on work or get the sleep they are in need of.
One helpful step could be creating a defined midterm period, like the finals period Brandeis has already instituted. This period would include the same features as the finals period does: If you have three midterms within four consecutive exam periods, or two exams on the same day with extended time, you can request to reschedule. This would allow students more flexibility and less stress, as having the ability to reschedule exams if needed instead of taking many exams back-to-back would relieve a lot of stress.
Although scheduling these exams would be a hefty administrative task, it would make life on campus much easier for the students who are suffering through midterm season. Some students are still taking midterms in November, while others finished theirs several weeks ago. A “midterm season,” modelled after “finals season,” could be a solution to the problem of chronic work that many students face near the end of Brandeis fall semesters. There were also many students who faced back-to-back midterm exams. Here is the inverse problem students face when midterm exams aren’t scheduled: they find themselves overwhelmed with assignments piling up on the same day and unable to work around the schedule. Creating a defined midterm schedule certainly wouldn’t be the cure to all burnout; that’s a much deeper problem that all college students face, but it could be one small way to positively affect Brandeis’ student population.
Now imagine on top of all this cramming within students’ academic schedule, they also have to worry about their class schedule for the next semester. And of course, the university cannot stay consistent in how it allows students to choose their classes. In the past four years alone, we have seen at least four major changes to how classes are selected in terms of credit, COVID-19 and platform. Us seniors started selecting classes on Sage, then we had to switch selection methods because of COVID-19, then we switched to Workday and now we select classes in different blocks depending on credit amount. There hasn’t been any consistency in choosing courses and the constant changes make an already stressful process even more stressful.
All of this to say, we are excited to go home. We are excited to be with family and away from work. Though assuredly we will be bringing work home with us, even if we say we won’t check our emails. And when we get back we know the joy of finals will be waiting for us with open arms. Travel home safely and we’ll see you in a little bit.