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October 2020

How Much is Half a Semester?: A Research Inquiry

Motivation

Over the past few months, college students around the world have come to the conclusion that hosting the majority of classes on Zoom has drastically lowered the quality of their mental health on and off campus. Hastened schedules, lack of social gossip, and an absence of stress-relieving parties have not only made it harder for students to feel connected in the digital era of COVID, but also has made it harder for them to feel progress in their academic careers. General sentiments from students include “online classes being super boring”, “friend groups are not the same as when we were at Shooters”, and “TURN OFF YOUR MIC WE CAN ALL HEAR YOU EATING YOUR BREAKFAST”, as collected from anonymous survey data.

One recent phenomenon of the digital semester is the sudden realization made around early October that “we’re halfway done through the semester” made by thousands of students in private group chats and by hundreds of professors at the start of their class as an awkward icebreaker, even though this news is pointless given that students and professors alike do not get a vacation amidst the chaos of a global pandemic & are left trying to figure out how [insert programming language] works. Regardless, it is important that we contemplate this question, as it provides useful insights as to what the academic calendar should look like and how we can best support the learning experiences of our students, whether it’s running experiments on calculating the maximum alcohol intake levels of the current student population, figuring which on-campus restaurant’s leftovers tastes the best when microwaved at 3AM, or googling “how to become a consultant” during bio lab.

In order to remedy the general confusion of the academic community amidst this pandemic and to provide students with a stable indicator on how to pace themselves in future semesters, our team ran a full investigation to answer how long half of a semester actually is.

Methods

We decided to narrow down our sample size towards the entire Duke population, because not only do I have connections to the rest of the Duke students using my 20 Facebook groups and 75 Groupme chats, but also because my dad has hot connections with the Duke alumni who sent their kids here, so it’s easy to get good information to fuel this study. 

Using this information, we were able to narrow down when people began thinking “Ohhhhhh, we’re halfway there.” The data was near unusable, so we were kinda living on a prayer that it would provide some useful conclusions, and we were able to narrow down the range of candidates for “halfway through the semester” down to about 40 – 60 days from the starting day of school, which was August 17th, 2020. By these observations, we tested the plausibility of each of the days in the range September 26th to October 16th in the following section.

Investigation

Now, utilizing advanced mathematics, we were able to calculate the midway point of the semester as October 5th, 2020. While many people agree that this is the most plausible day for the halfway mark, it doesn’t take into account that students were continually taking midterms, which would dramatically impact students’ schedules and how they allocated their time. Additionally, it doesn’t take into account how the midterms were distributed, because if there is one thing the Duke community cannot do, it’s sticking to a schedule. So starting from this estimate, we decided to adjust the timing accordingly depending on when midterms were occurring, however, whenever I posted on my Snapchat with a poll asking my followers when their exams started, the data was inconclusive, and we were unable to use midterms as a factor in our analysis. As a last-ditch effort, we decided to test the only “holiday” within this range, Columbus Day, as a potential candidate for the halfway mark, but I realized that no one (rightfully) cares about Christopher Columbus and we had to scrap this idea…

Results

Oh man, I don’t even know anymore. Where did the time go? My God, I wanted this year to be over quick, but I didn’t want it to be like this. I swear in 30 days, I’m going to have no excuse for not spending time watching a Marvel Movie Marathon with my family now that I have “nothing to do,” and I will not be able to take 3 days of watching big purple Thanos slowly getting out of his dumbass chair while Black Widow coaches Hulk to not be mad at everything all the fucking time, I MIGHT AS WELL BE BRUCE BANNER BY THIS POINT. But at least Hulk could go outside and smash everything that pissed him off, LET ALONE GO OUTSIDE!!! I’m so done with this shitty semester and I’m so done with the notion of sitting down with my same old family right afterwards, taking the time that I would have spent skiing with my bros in whatever northeastern part of the country that I, a typical Duke student, came from. Anyways, the halfway point of the semester was probably whenever you started to lose your mind, which for me, was the 4th week in the semester. Well, at least there are only 30 days left, y’all.

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