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Back to School Stress

As we head back to school, I find the anxiety overwhelming. The start of each year is like starting a new job, with new colleagues (students) and new routines. Time to learn new people, new schedules, new classrooms, and even a new office.

I'm now in my third office, in a third building and I haven't yet reached a year as an instructor at the university. The change is constant, as the institution is trying to redefine itself in two different (and sometimes contradictory) ways. That's not really a topic for this blog post, but turmoil and confusion in higher education also make each year more of an adventure than I would like.

When I was young, the new year seemed like part of the routine. I'm from a small Central California community; the school was the center of the small community where we lived until I was in high school. Even after moving into the "city" we remained in the same school junior high (now "middle school") and high school district. I went to school with the same small group of students from second grade through high school graduation. Ten years of seeing the same people seems like forever as a child and teenager.

I haven't yet found that same sense of routine and home that I appreciated in my youth.

My master's degree was two quick years. There wasn't really time to feel like I belonged and I didn't form the strong bonds that some of my colleagues did. The professors, staff, and my classmates were nice — and I am in loose contact with several former classmates — but these are not close friendships or strong professional connections.

The doctorate process is somewhat isolated, at least it was for me. You take courses for two years, and then most of your work is alone. You might teach and do some research, but the dissertation process isn't a social one in some disciplines. Again, I formed some loose connections, and two or three friendships, but graduate school isn't a predictable and comfortable routine. It's stressful for everyone, too.

When I completed the doctorate, I imagined finding something of a permanent home. Unfortunately, I didn't find that stability that I want personally and professionally. I don't need to work one job for 20 years, but I want clarity and predictability.

The school year was once part of my "routine" and gave me a sense of order. As an adult, the end of August no longer feels like a return to "normal" as it did in my youth. Instead, back to school is a reminder that adulthood isn't orderly and routine. This week is a stressful reminder of uncertainty.


  1. Thank you for the worklife insight through the eyes of an Autistic professional

  2. I am really so surprised to hear this--that the academic field is a source of stress. I had thought that it would be a good field for my aspie son to pursue. But as you explained here, it can also be difficult.

    It's so hard to know.

    I thought that since teaching is so regular with quarters, trimesters, summers and the schedule that it would become a routine and therefore easy to cope. Well, it's just another thing to consider.

    I appreciate you sharing this, Christopher.

  3. I will post a longer explanation of why academic posts can be good for some people and why they can be a bad situation for others. There are a great many variables to consider and the topic is worthy of a long posting.


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