Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Musings on sabbaticals

Sabbaticals are one of the rewards of the academic life. That is what my mentors told me.

Other professions occasionally get sabbaticals--there are companies that offer sabbaticals to employees in the private sector (see Fortune magazine's list); some religious denominations offer leaves for their ministers. Some have argued that military leaders should also get paid leave.

The purpose of the academic sabbatical is straightforward, as MJ Perry from Carpe Diem notes:

Faculty time at research universities is allocated among teaching, research
and service, but what often happens is that teaching and service become so
time-consuming that it detracts from scholarly research. Having a semester
every seven years without any obligations for teaching and service allows
research-oriented faculty an opportunity to devote full-time attention to
research projects that are often impossible to complete with teaching and
service obligations, e.g. write a book, or travel internationally to collect
scientific data or conduct scientific studies, etc.

Thus, the benefits of the sabbatical are straightforward:
  • Paid time to focus on the topics and activities of your choice
  • No service responsibilities
  • No teaching responsibilities
  • Chance to travel and spend time in new places
  • Opportunities to study/work with colleagues in new places
  • Time to focus on large projects

Those of us academic administrators can also use this sabbatical time to participate in an administrative training program, like the ACE Fellowship Program.

Unfortunately, like every other aspect of faculty life, sabbaticals are widely misunderstood and, in many forums, resented. I mean, who are faculty to get some special perk that "real people" don't get.

My gf raised the issue when I started visualizing my own sabbatical (still a couple years away, unfortunately). If I got a paid year "off" to do research, travel, or gain administrative training, what would SHE be doing? Would she be travelling with me, or would she be at home, alone and working, to handle things here?

I raised this to a friend who had a recent sabbatical, asking how his wife felt about it. His face dropped. "She was pissed!" was his quick response. Pissed during the whole sabbatical. Suspicious of how he was using his time...Was he really working, or was he screwing around and watching Prime Time in the Daytime? And if he was home, shouldn't he be taking on more chores?

It is hard to communicate the concept of a "working leave" to someone who works everyday on a more regular schedule and has no chance of ever getting a leave from any of their activities. It is easy to see why partners thus employed might be resentful. So, how do we woo the partners and convince them the sabbatical is a good thing?

And another question: Is it better for a future higher ed administrator to do an ACE Fellowship, or to focus on writing and publishing to up the number of pubs, the research money, and such to raise her status to full professor? I am considering both of these options, assuming I don't take another position that pushes the sabbatical even further in the future. Obviously, I could do the research one first, and wait for the administrative one until after I have reached full professor status. But that seems to drag everything out so long...

Ah, well. Enough of that. Back to the everyday, beginning-of-the-semester grind.


Anonymous said...

Go for full professor! ACE fellowships are nice, but I've never seen one listed as a requirement in an administrative position advertisement. Many such positions do require qualifications consistent with appointment as full professor. So if you are keeping your options open, doing the research necessary to get to full will be more advantageous.

Anonymous said...

I'm not pissed when the gf gets a sabbatical. I married her for the sabbaticals! You professor types aren't paid in money so much as you're paid in time and the family must/ought/should come along for the ride! If the gf (and you) can swing it, she ought to take some time off w/o pay and you BOTH can take a brain break. My career has not suffered all that much as a result and she and I have had some nice times in far away places.


Anonymous said...

I'm a partner of someone who will eventually get sabbatical... I do think your doing a few more chores would be nice. And communicate with your partner about the work you're doing each day so they know what you're accomplishing.

coolstar said...

If you need to communicate to your partner about how much work you're doing on sabbatical, then, frankly, you need a new partner. Sabbaticals are ALL about YOU being in charge of your work life, and not reporting to anyone other than yourself (and your sabbatical report when you return). That doesn't mean there can't be jealousy issues (hopefully, if he/she is partnered with an academic, those were worked out long ago), and career issues, my I wholeheartedly agree with Meg. Few people get these, BOTH of you should take full advantage!