Tips for Creating a Semester Plan for Faculty Success in Writing and Research

At the CRASE Plan Your Semester workshop, 17 faculty and staff, including several new faculty members, worked on developing a semester-long plan. Below, Professor Christine Yeh summarizes key steps in creating a Semester Plan using materials developed by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD).

Semester Plan

When creating a concrete Semester Plan, the main challenges academics often face include: (1) unstructured time, (2) varied and time consuming commitments, (3) prioritizing, and (4) underestimating the time required for research and writing. Due to these challenges, writing time often gets pushed aside and replaced by smaller but time-consuming tasks such as email requests, committee responsibilities, administrative reports, and student issues. Because we perceive having free time to write, we often allow these duties to take over in the hope of finding time elsewhere in our busy schedules, but it is important to prioritize our scholarship and personal goals.

To make a successful Semester Plan, know what you need and what you need to accomplish. Create a realistic plan to meet all of your needs including personal and professional goals, and build in support, structure, and accountability.

Five steps can help you create and implement a strategic Semester Plan:

  1. Identify your personal and professional goals
  2. Map out the steps and work to accomplish your specific goals
  3. Introduce your projects to your semester calendar and schedule them in
  4. Build in the support and accountability for completing these goals
  5. Work the Semester Plan

Identify Your Goals

People often start the process by identifying their goals and then stop, but it’s important to remember that according to NCFDD, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” When you start to put together a Semester Plan, identify both research/writing goals and personal goals. During the workshop, participants identified three research/writing goals and three personal goals to get the process started.

Once you’ve identified your goals, the next step is to make them SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-framed. By reframing goals as SMART goals, they become more concrete and realistic. An example of a personal goal would be to spend time outside, but once transformed as a SMART goal, it may look more like mountain biking once a week on Saturdays from 9-11 am or to try a new 3-hour hike on the first Saturday morning of each month.

Map out the steps and work to accomplish your goal

Working with the SMART goals, you can now write out the steps required to make each goal happen. For example, when developing a book proposal, you may need to draft different sections, create a table of contents, and select a publisher. Break down your goals to individual to-do tasks that you can schedule into your calendar.

Introduce your projects to your semester calendar

Now that you have the steps to accomplish each goal, it’s time to start scheduling them into your calendar. We recommend opening Google Calendar, or the system that works for you, and add each item into your calendar. It’s important to accurately estimate how much time the task will take. Scheduling tasks into your calendar will help you see how busy you are with other commitments such as mid-term grading and travel plans, and you can adjust your timeframe to match the semester.

Build in Support and Accountability

The next step is to make sure you have the support and accountability to make sure you get your tasks completed. Some ideas for support include making plans to write on-site, online writing groups, accountability group check-ins, or a writing buddy/coach.

Work the Plan

Once your strategic plan is complete, schedule a meeting with a mentor, writing friend, or accountability group and share your goals. As you work through your Semester Plan, some tasks may take more time than you estimated, but you can always adjust your timeframe. Understanding how long tasks will take will help when you plan future semesters.

Faculty colleagues who successfully completed their semester plans shared some helpful tips. These include the following:

  1. After entering writing tasks and goals into your calendar, color code them based on the type of writing project.
  2. Assign specific times to each goal so you can best estimate how much time to spend on them.
  3. Share your priority goals with collaborators so they are also on board with your time frame and deadlines.

It is important to be able to adapt and change your Semester Plan should you finish your goals early (or late). The plan is there for structure, accountability, and clarity about your goals, but it is also important to be flexible as you navigate the academic context. Personally, I look at my goals weekly to add and change things as they come up. I also create a plan for each semester to ensure I am prioritizing the important goals in my life.