Monday, October 21, 2013

What is a sabbatical?

The best comment I have gotten when talking to people about being on sabbatical is something along the lines of "how nice that you get a year off from work" or "what a nice vacation". Where does this incorrect notion come from? A sabbatical is NOT a vacation. Hmmm... What does Webster's say a sabbatical is? Huh - here might be part of the problem! Merriam Webster online says of the "sabbatical year": a leave often with pay granted usually every seventh year (as to a college professor) for rest, travel, or research — called also sabbatical leave. Well, I'd like to use this post as a way to tell you about what my sabbatical year is/will be generally like. 

In my experience, every sabbatical is different. Many professors choose to spend their sabbatical either learning and applying new research tools, building new research collaborations, or developing new curricula and courses (or some combo of those activities). Others do what I am doing - conducting data analysis and interpretation that can lead to grant proposals and peer-reviewed manuscripts (scientific papers), writing those proposals and papers, and extending their professional network. At MSU, during a sabbatical year, they pay Profs half of their salary so that they can travel and do research with no teaching or service/committee work.

The QUB library - great place to work!
My sabbatical comes after working very long hours and very hard for 16 years as a graduate student and professor. In fact, most graduate students and professors rarely work just a 40 hour week. Most work nights and weekends, and many either don't take vacations, or vacations include a laptop and working remotely. I secured funding for the other half of my salary this year so that I could spend a year THINKING and REFLECTING. Sounds wonderful, right? In some ways, this plan is like a vacation for me - I went into academia with the idea that I would spend loads of time thinking and doing science. The reality, though, is that I spend the majority of my working hours in meetings and classrooms, and although I find teaching very rewarding and enjoy some of my committee work, I really miss having the quiet time to think and do science.

The QUB GAP buildings (School of Geography, Archeology & Paleoecology) where I have an office.
So far, my day-to-day schedule looks something like this: deliver one of the boys to school/childcare at 9am, go to my office at QUB and work independently until mid-afternoon, Skype with colleagues in the U.S. in the mid-late afternoon (multiple research projects at various stages), and then head home around 5 or 5:30 pm. Pretty great! Also while we are here, I will work collaboratively with my colleague who lives in the area, serve on an NSF panel in D.C., attend a working group in FL, give some invited research talks and extend my local and regional professional networks by attending QUB seminars and European conferences and meetings. By the end of the year, I am hopeful that I will have accomplished a lot of science and that I will feel both personally and professionally rejuvenated!

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