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Thursday, June 23 • 15:00 - 16:00
CON08.08a - One Week, Many Ripples: Measuring the Impacts of the McMaster Fall Break

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Canadian post-secondary institutions are increasingly introducing a fall break into their term calendars, with the stated goal of reducing student stress and improving academic success. In 2015, a full-week fall break was introduced at McMaster University in order to “improve academic performance and mental health and well-being” amongst students (McMaster Undergraduate Council minutes, January 2015). Research indicating that undergraduate students in Canada report higher stress than the general population (Adlaf et al., 2001) and are experiencing increasing rates of anxiety disorders (Booth et al., 2015) underlines the importance of mental health initiatives at universities. Surprisingly, however, there is no published research investigating whether implementation of a fall break meets the intended goals. Such research is critical: fall breaks have become the norm and it is imperative to determine their effects on students. To do this, we surveyed undergraduate students at McMaster University about their experience of the fall break, collected standardized measures of experienced stressors and perceptions of stress before and after the break, and hosted several focus groups to develop a detailed narrative of students’ experience. Results indicate that the majority of students thought the fall break was a positive experience. However, self-reports of stress indicate a more complex picture, with many students reporting increased perceived stress after the break. Additionally, a substantial portion of students reported that the fall break was a negative experience. Implications for university policy and student support programs will be discussed. Attendees of this session will acquire an understanding of the impact of the fall break on student experience.


Adlaf, E. M., Gliksman, L., Demers, A., & Newton-Taylor, B. (2001). The prevalence of elevated psychological distress among Canadian undergraduates: Findings from the 1998 Canadian Campus Survey. Journal of American College Health, 50, 67-72.

Booth, R. W., Sharma, D., & Leader, T. I. (2015). The age of anxiety? It depends where you look: Changes in STAI trait anxiety. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, e-publication ahead of print. DOI: 10.1007/s00127=015=1096=0

avatar for Michael Agnew

Michael Agnew

Postdoctoral Fellow, McMaster University
Michael Agnew is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning (MIIETL) at McMaster University. He received his PhD in Religious Studies from McMaster University in 2015.

Heather Poole

McMaster University
Heather Poole is a postdoctoral fellow at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Heather's background is in experimental psychology.

Additional Authors

Ayesha Khan

Dr. Ayesha Khan is an Assistant Professor at McMaster with the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior. Her research interests explore enhancement of undergraduate student experience through experiential education and ways through which social loafing can be decreased... Read More →

Thursday June 23, 2016 15:00 - 16:00 EDT
UCC 61