Before May 1 and the summer break, all U of T students will have to survive a final wave of assignments and exams and, perhaps most sadly, snow. In these troubling times I find myself justifiably frustrated, not only with the weather, stress, and exhaustion, but also by something more specific. I feel as though conflicting academic deadlines are compromising the enjoyment I derive from my education.
Being in three political science courses currently, with one or two essays per full-year class, I am stuck with multiple 10-to-15 page papers — each constituting a considerable portion of my final grades in those classes — all due within a week. I’m sure many students in similar disciplines can relate, and I’m sure that many of those students are struggling with more work than I am.
In order to produce the kind of work I know I am capable of — that accurately reflects my understanding, enthusiasm, and skills — weeks of work are required. However, with readings, small assignments, extra-curricular activities, social events, family commitments, part-time jobs, and sleep, there is barely any time to complete the essay-writing process thoroughly — let alone multiple times in one month.
In order to cope, many students are required to cut corners, either by reducing the extent or quality of their research or the amount of valuable time spent editing an essay, and opting for easier arguments instead of complex ones. This can mean a lower grade on a paper, but for many, that is often a sacrifice worth making.
What is more pressing, and perhaps less observed, is the loss students experience as the pressures of their workloads prevent them from truly enjoying their education. The topics I’m researching are fascinating, and I would love to spend the time necessary to appreciate their nuances and complexities. I plan to spend my life pursuing these areas of research, and I don’t want to sacrifice what is important to me because of deadlines.
There are several solutions, but they all seem to have downfalls. One of the options is reducing our yearly courseloads. This will make it easier to handle work, but it creates new pressures and means more time and money spent on your degree because of an additional year of schooling or summer courses.
Perhaps better organization is needed — like reading ahead early in the year in order to make more time to focus on essays later on. To be honest, a great deal of organization and planning is required for this to occur — something that does not come naturally for many students. This also creates the issue of potentially forgetting and not benefiting as much from readings. Readings done in advance will not be fresh in students’ minds when it comes time to discuss their content in tutorial. Even with good notes, it is difficult to recall initial reactions and make relevant connections and informed comments in discussion.
We should consider what actions U of T can take to alleviate some of this stress and give students the time to really appreciate their educational experiences. Maybe better coordination within disciplines could result in more evenly distributed deadlines. This would be particularly helpful in core courses that every major or minor student is required to take. A re-evaluation of the number of course assignments may be necessary. Perhaps there is a formula for the optimal number and spacing of assignments — one that maximizes the amount of work students can accomplish while providing them with adequate time to happily dive into their work comprehensively. If I ever have time, maybe I’ll try to figure it out.
Christina Atkinson is a second-year student at University College studying economics and political science.