A Wee Getaway

So apparently I forgot to publish this last week. Oops.

The fall semester is only 4 weeks old and I’m already feeling more exhausted than I think I should. I’m not exactly sure what is causing this, but needless to say the struggle to stay awake past midnight has been all too real. And my level of tired is beyond what I would expect after a long day of work. After spending most of my summer in a state of relative peace and quiet, I think the likely reason for my lack of energy is perhaps that I’m still struggling to adapt to the energy and buzz that comes with a new semester. While I spent much of my summer globetrotting, most of my days were focussed on one or at-most two tasks, and interruptions were few and far between. Having returned to my regular life, I’m finding my days are noisier than I remember. I don’t think the level of activity has changed, but the way in which I respond to it has. It almost feels like everything else is frantically vibrating, and I’m stuck slightly out of phase.

Or maybe I’m not so much out of phase, as in a high state of wanderlust.

Whatever the case, I felt it necessary to plan a wee getaway in the hope that I could recapture some of the peace and quiet that came with my summer travels, that I could slow down enough to breathe and refocus and try to figure out how best to approach the rest of the semester. And so this past weekend I boarded a glorified lawn dart and made my way from here to Vancouver. The plan for the weekend was simple: arrive, meet up with friends, drink coffee, hike some mountains, and share as much do-nothing time with Rick as I could. And it was exactly what I needed.

The flight there gave me time to think about the past few weeks and I can honestly say that a lot has happened since the beginning of September, but I’m only now sitting down to write about it.

September began as many have before – with numerous events that typically define the craziness of a new school year; orientation events for the new students (including a pie-throwing fundraiser that saw me and Dr. Deb Stacey getting pied in the face by our students), final classroom preparation, student club planning, and hosting industry representatives looking to connect with the students and faculty in the School of Computer Science. Guest lectures and talks were planned. Lunches were hosted. And while most of September was devoted to welcoming new students and to the kick-off of what will no doubt be an amazing school year, it was also the launch of the University of Guelph’s recruitment campaign for high school students thinking about post-secondary education. As such, September also included a weekend spent in Toronto at the Ontario Universities Fair chatting with high school students and their parents about the programs that the School of Computer Science has to offer.

All told, it was an incredibly busy month, but one that was a lot of fun and strangely productive. And on their own the typical events of September would have been enough to keep me more than busy every day, but earlier this year while working with a group of awesome colleagues we made the decision to move an event that we typically host in late October, to September to accommodate a pedagogical experiment. Specifically we decided to move the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge from the weekend closest to World Food Day in October, to the September 16th weekend.

And so surrounded by the typical craziness of the back to school season, I also found myself spending a fantastic weekend on campus with students from more than 20 disciplines during the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge (part of the ICON classroom that I co-created with Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs). And I got to watch in awe as first year and senior students came together in a very short period of time to develop solutions to address challenges in our food systems; solutions that tackled food distribution, food insecurity, and food waste. Over the course of approximately 36 hours, the students had explored the challenges we face, identified particular problems within the food domain, and developed novel ideas to address them, including high protein insect flours, preventing the waste of ugly fruit through a student run educational smoothie-based venture, and a certification program to identify sustainable food providers (to name a few). The students were nothing short of energetic. More than that they were extremely inspiring, and I am fortunate that I get to spend the rest of the semester as they develop and refine their ideas in the ICON classroom.

Clearly September was fun. The energy on campus has been high. The students have been inspiring and engaged. And I’ve truly enjoyed almost every minute of it. However, if the previous few years have taught me nothing than to take the time to stop and breathe, I knew by mid month that I needed to plan a weekend away. I knew that if I didn’t, I would fill my time with work or meetings or other academic related things.

So I spent this past weekend mostly pausing my academic world. Yes, I had a few things that I had to do while I was away, but mostly I spent my time on the other important things in my life. Specifically, I spent my weekend in Vancouver visiting friends, and hiking in the mountains of British Columbia (specifically Grouse Mountain and St. Mark’s summit). It was an amazing weekend, filled with all of the things that make time spent away amazing, and it clearly worked to reduce the amount of noise around me. Did it change the amount of work I have to do? Nope. But it did give me a chance to just stop and breathe and reprioritize everything.

I like wee getaways. I should probably plan more of them.

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