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‘Cat in the Stacks: Error 404, Syllabus Not Found


 I’m Michelle Callaghan, a first-year graduate student at Villanova University. This is our column, “‘Cat in the Stacks.” I’m the ‘cat. Falvey Memorial Library is the stacks. I’ll be posting about living that scholarly life, from research to study habits to embracing your inner-geek, and how the library community might aid you in all of it.

Welcome to the driest blog post you’ve ever stumbled upon! Just kidding. I’m trying to do something useful, here, play along! No one really talks about this in college, this growing academic epidemic, but it’s a pervasive challenge sweeping the galaxy.

Keeping a schedule.

This seems like a September topic, but nay, ‘tis not—the not-quite-midterm period probably sees the most syllabus ignorance. Giant papers and finals aren’t due yet. The routine of this semester’s classes is by now ingrained. It’s a recipe for syllabus disaster.

Even a super-good A+ student sometimes forgets to look at syllabi. Horrifying, I know. And why? Because for whatever reason, syllabi can feel overwhelming  like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Depending on your discipline, some professors swear by the letter of their perfectly formatted and standardized documents—others might treat them more fluidly. Some clarify page numbers and Blackboard uploads, some don’t. Some lay out all major assignments in one section; others bury their due dates in the weekly assignments.

But at the end of the day, it is your job to decipher the mysteries, and your job to do things on time.

If scouring syllabi and transferring important information to your personal life-keeping charts and grids of choice is not a habitual New Semester Tactic for you, you’re probably accustomed to the weekly To Do List panic. If you don’t have or need personal life-keeping charts and grids of choice, you are a mystical beast of myth and your powers of retention and grit far surpass that of us mere mortals and there is absolutely no need for you to read this blog.

If you are a mere mortal like me, here’s my recipe of avoiding syllabus disasters (a recipe which intensifies every semester):

  1. Ahem, behold my strict teacher voice: the syllabus is actually an assignment for the first class. Treat it like any other reading assignment.
  2. If you know you can use the physical syllabus itself as your schedule and touchstone, highlight/circle/underline important dates. Every time you pull out your work outside of class, look at the syllabus.
  3. If you know you can’t use the physical syllabus itself as your schedule, highlight/circle/underline important dates and transfer them to your calendar.
  4. I find it best to use a grid style calendar to visualize your priorities. If you have a set time during your week to accomplish research, homework, writing, and studying, let major projects visually span multiple days—don’t just write the project on the due date. Assign yourself the work on the day you’ll do the work.
  5. If you use a written calendar, remember to look at it. If you won’t remember to look at it, consider Google Calendar for your smartphone or internet-enabled device.
  6. And, if you really want to know how excessive I can be, I do all of the above and then use Google reminders to block out recurring reminders of upcoming assignments over the weekend.

Now go check your syllabi!

Article by Michelle Callaghan, graduate assistant on the Communication and Service Promotion team. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Villanova University.



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Last Modified: February 19, 2015

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