No Reading Week for the Sciences

By Vivianne Hericks

— The time has finally come to take a breather from the first half of the semester with the arrival of the so-called reading week, or at least for some of AUC’s students. This means a week without lectures – giving students the opportunity to work on material that has been specifically assigned for this week, catch up on readings, or simply go on a holiday or take a rest. As the reading week is distributed unequally, with the majority of the Science professors not granting their students a week without lectures, debates concerning the fairness of this week re-occur each semester. The Herring spoke to Dr. Michiel van Drunen, the head of the Science department, and several AUC students to find out what they think about the issue.

Even though it is more common for students in the Humanities and Social Sciences to be given a reading week, this is not always implied.The inequality amongst the students is often the cause of heated discussions on whether one discipline deserves the time off more than the other. The reason being that their discipline requires a bigger workload or more complex material.

Despite of this, according to van Drunen, the reading week has never been formal policy at AUC. This academic year, the extended management team (eMT) recommended all professors in the first semester to leave two time slots open, ‘’so that the total number would be the same as in the spring semester,“ said van Drunen.

As most of the students are aware, the first semester is slightly longer than the second one and with fewer holidays to recover from the stress AUC may inflict. The suggestion by the eMT to keep two time slots open is supposed to enable “some ‘breathing space‘ in the semester,“ van Drunen said.

According to van Drunen, several Humanities faculty members had made the decision to synchronise these two time slots so they would fall in the same week.This would allow for a coherent week-long break from the lectures.

A factor, which seems to have led students to believe that such a thing as a synchronized reading week exists.

Van Drunen stated that most Science professors usually leave these two slots open as well, but that this is often distributed more evenly over the semester. The higher goal here would be to spread the workload for the students more evenly over the duration of the course.

“The eMT estimates that a synchronised reading week may increase the workload and stress for students,’’ said van Drunen. The reasoning behind this was that many students would use the week as a holiday, which could result in the workload piling up for the weeks to follow.

The majority of students that The Herring spoke to about the reading week stated that they indeed would like to treat the week as a holiday. However, in most cases, this is not separated from catching up on work or working ahead.

Pascal van Luit, a second year Social Science major, said he would like to spend the reading week having “some down time with the boys.’’ He added that he also wanted to plan his next big assignments, earn some extra money, and visit family or go on a European escapade.

The aspect of being able to visit family comes up repeatedly when students were asked about their opinion on the reading week. This was especially the case amongst students that have family living abroad.

Mya Berger, a second year Social Science major, mentions how the reading week gives her time to see her family. “I was planning on going back home and study there, it would have been a great way to conciliate studying and mental health“ she said.

Despite taking a break from AUC in the form of a holiday or a family visit, the working aspect of the reading week is not necessarily lost. Without the lectures, many students feel that they can direct their full attention on catching up on work and reflecting without distractions by other responsibilities.

‘’The break from lectures is beneficial for physical and mental health“, said Agnes Katharina Wilke, second year Science major. According to her, it provides students with time to recover from the previous weeks as well as the possibility to set aims for the coming weeks.   

Several students were very much aware of the difference in length and breaks of the spring and fall semester and recognized the need for a break to make up for this difference. “I find that 16 weeks of studying back to back is just not very helpful nor productive, so I do think the reading week is extremely valuable in terms of revitalizing and re-energizing so as to be able to keep studying productively,“ said Malou Miedema, second year Social Science major.

“Considering the interdisciplinary approach of AUC, I think it neither makes sense nor is fair to base the decision, whether students get a reading week or not, on their chosen major“, said Sarah Huelsen, first year Science major. Huelsen sees this as a particularly important, considering that the Science students receive just the same amount of work as the other disciplines, if not more.

Basil van Wijk, a third year Science major, points to an incoherence with the reading week and the Science subjects that could explain the current approach by Science professors. “In Sciences, or at least physics and maths, a week to ‘read’ doesn’t make any sense. To completely benefit from a week of studying, you need to do exercises whether or not you have class“, said van Wijk. In his opinion, the week should either be entirely free or a normal week of university.

As van Wijk understands it, the reading week is more appropriate for Humanities students, seeing as Humanities subjects consist of a lot of reading and writing – where the guidance of a professor is not necessarily important. “In Science however, you need someone to explain the theory, because you will get stuck otherwise. In a week without class you can’t learn anything new, or at least up until a certain extent,“ said van Wijk.

The idea of turning the reading week into a break, or the suggestion to skip it completely, is supported by another Science student. “I would not need the reading week to catch up on my work. So I would not necessarily want a reading week“ said Josephine Dik, second year Science major. She also stated that if the reading week could be used as a break instead, she would want it.

Whether the reading week should simply become a mid-semester break, or not be incorporated in the curriculum at all, is a decision that should be made by the professors, according to Lance Bosch, third year Science major. “They know their material inside and out, and if they think two more classes can really help a student, they should have the authority to say so“, said Bosch. This is especially applicable, he said, as “different course have vastly different workloads“.

He pointed out that a week-long break eliminates two lectures from the schedule, which influences the content of the course. “For many of my courses, it was simply necessary for the teacher to use the extra two classes to cover the total content of the course appropriately“, said Bosch.

He added that a way to approach the lectures that fall into the time slot of the reading week could be by providing review sessions. “Peers benefited academically from such sessions, more than they would have from haphazard self-study sessions,“ said Bosch.

Whether the debate of the reading week will lead to the creation of a mid-semester break or its elimination is open for discussion and regarded as an ongoing process.
By confirmation of the director of education, Ramon Puras, the introduction or at least the discussion of introducing a general reading week is a work in progress and is open to being addressed in the AUC21 process.

In turn, the student council is preparing a survey for students in order to support the idea of making the reading week unified across all disciplines. “We are planning on gathering as much data as possible to support our claim that a unified reading week is really necessary,” said Sofija Stefanovic, co-chair of the student council.

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