A Love-Hate Relationship with Fall Reading Period

Fall Reading Period has been growing on me.
Fall Reading Period has definitely grown on me.

Reading Period is probably one of the most unique times of the Princeton semester. Fall semester’s Reading Period is particularly special (or brutal, some people would say), because it comes after winter break and makes January one long month filled with studying and finals. But after four years of enduring the looks of pity and shock from friends and family, it’s somehow been growing on me. The prospect of having work over break is still stressful, but I’ve come to strike a balance between work and relaxation and even enjoy parts of Reading Period—and winter break, too.

I’m not sure anyone can say they enjoy the looming cloud of projects, studying, and assignments over winter break. Staying inside continuously during the dead, cold days of January certainly doesn’t help. I’ve also heard complaints that professors sometimes assign lengthy projects over winter break and Reading Period that would otherwise be difficult to complete during the comparatively shorter spring semester. While I’ve been fortunate to not encounter courses requiring that much work, I have previously paid in time, blood, and sweat (figuratively) for not working at all during winter break. Sophomore year Reading Period was about the worst I encountered: simultaneous projects for the Electrical Engineering requirements (one of which had a final paper, the other a final) that I spent way too many days working around the clock to complete. To top it off, a winter storm hit during that year’s Reading Period, making it absolutely miserable.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time to breathe and relax during winter break. Giving your mind time to unwind means that you’ll be able to give it your all when you finally get started. If you stress about doing work when doing work simply isn’t practical, you’ll just create anxiety that you don’t need (and do you really want to be a damper during holiday dinner?). Sometimes, you might have to accept that it’s okay to have an unproductive day—even if, as Princeton students, we feel like we can’t. For me personally, I’ve found that as long as I dedicate some time to work over break, structure my time well, and really work hard during Reading Period, winter break doesn’t have to be a depressing ordeal.

It’s also worth noting that having finals after winter break isn’t all bad. I’ve been told by more humanities-inclined friends that winter break with fall Reading Period provides a lot of time for working on papers. With more paper-heavy and research-related Dean’s Date assignments this year, I can finally empathize. Winter break is a great time for really enjoying research for the intellectual exercise it is: reading over literature, pondering and organizing your thoughts, and going back to read more. And it fits well with the long travels to home and back!

More often than not, we criticize the Princeton semester for its overly-long finals preparation period, but I’ve come to enjoy Reading Period for the intellectual discovery and insight that makes learning so exciting. Although looking back, I have always tired out at the end of January and May—there’s only so much time I can spend continuously studying and working—I’ve found that Reading Period and finals have been some of the most satisfying periods of the school year (especially before I get my grades back). Maybe it’s because everything goes so fast during the school year that I don’t really have the chance to sit down and appreciate it. Maybe it’s nice stepping out of the frantic schedule-driven school year for just a little bit and appreciating how far you’ve come since syllabus week. I can’t deny that those looks of pity and the overhanging cloud of impending work aren’t fun; but after four years at Princeton, I’ve made my peace with Fall Reading Period and almost even come to (gasp) enjoy it.

Maybe you can learn to do so, too.

— Stacey Huang, Engineering Correspondent