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Preparing for life on sabbatical

The Smart Scholar | Topics in Higher Education

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on preparing for life on sabbatical.

When you become a faculty member, your university will provide you with associated benefits in this role. One of the benefits is the opportunity for you to take sabbaticals (sometimes one semester or one year in length). These sabbaticals relieve you from your teaching and service responsibilities so that you can engage in research activity. At my university, I am fortunate that all tenure-track assistant professors have the opportunity to take pre-tenure research, which functions similarly to a sabbatical. I am returning to teaching this semester from the mentioned pre-tenure research leave, and so I thought it would be beneficial to share insights I have learned from my experience.

Preparation starts well before sabbatical

While university policies vary, there is often an application process involved with applying for a sabbatical. Thus, in most instances, you are preparing for your sabbatical 6-12 months in advance of taking it. With that in mind, it is important to always think ahead strategically while planning for sabbatical.

For example, is your sabbatical contingent upon earning a grant award? If so, you may want to take a calendar and plan out the timeline of when you would receive grant funds and when your sabbatical starts to ensure that you can begin your project on time. In this situation I would also recommend applying for several grants (if applicable) given the competitive nature of this type of funding.

Additionally, if you are conducting a research project involving other organizations, it is important to plan out the project so that you will have received institutional review board (IRB) approval for your project prior to your project and sabbatical start date. This way you can immediately begin your project once your leave begins.

Be flexible with your plans

I suspect that like many of you, I try to prepare for projects I am engaged in. Prior to taking my sabbatical, a colleague said to me:

“I know you have big plans for your leave with your research project, but from my experience, prepare for things to go slower than expected.”

At the time, I doubted this advice—but I must admit they were absolutely correct.

For example, approval from the research site took two months longer than planned for one of the projects I planned to engage in while on leave. As a result, my project timeline was pushed back. I learned from this experience that you should have a plan—with a timeline—that is feasible for the length of your leave. Additionally, you must be willing to be flexible with your plan. In my situation I worked on another writing project while I waited for research site approval.

Take time for yourself

As academics we are evaluated in many ways, one of which is how “productive” we are in terms of research quantity (and quality). Consequently, this push for productivity causes many of us to overwork ourselves. This can be exacerbated for junior faculty who are seeking tenure and promotion.

Therefore, I believe taking time for yourself during a sabbatical is a necessary, but undervalued aspect of the opportunity. Why not take that vacation out of the country that you have wanted to take? The Internet is now available in many places, so you can still stay connected and tackle your writing projects.

My hope for you, post-sabbatical, is that you return to your position not only having completed your project, but also refreshed from the time off.

For the readers who have taken a sabbatical, what did you do during your time? Do you have other suggestions for readers who are seeking to take a sabbatical? Please share them with me on Twitter!

 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.