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What *are* sabbaticals for, anyway?

6 April, 2022

What is a sabbatical for? It depends on where one is, I think. Some places give pre-tenure sabbaticals, some give semi-regular sabbaticals, some make them competitive, and some give nothing at all. Some declare that sabbaticals are the same as research leave — usually the places that don’t give research leave, or give it grudgingly as leave without pay, telling you that you should be grateful that your academic institutional employer is continuing to pay your benefits while they get nothing from it — although they are happy to tout that Fulbright/NEH/whatever will impress the parents in recruiting materials. A few say that that a sabbatical should be a time of rest and regeneration, a time that faculty can re-connect, and take the time to think, and maybe even do something unrelated to one’s teaching and scholarship. Some of those even mean it, and then, unthinkingly, undermine that. I am on sabbatical. It’s for a year. Yup. Took a pay cut to half my salary because dammit, I am tired. Before you say anything, yes, I know I am lucky. I know lots of academics who aren’t in this position, and might never be. It’s not fair. But that’s not this post. Actually, it’s part of the post, or at least in some ways related. I’ll get to that.

In the meantime, what am I doing with my sabbatical? My sabbatical that got postponed because of a pandemic, which also shattered the financial plan for funding the sabbatical, is definitely not the one I applied for. I had research plans, carefully defined. I had regenerative plans, less well-defined, but ones that included seeing family I’d not seen in over a decade (and in the case of one parent, closer to two). I had a plan for a public history project, a very specific one, that would continue something I had started a couple of years ago. I am … kinda doing those things? But what I am doing is way cooler.

I am currently sitting in my shared office at a German university, being a Fellow in an amazing research group. I meant to start blogging about this a month ago, when I got here, but it has all been so much! First, I am being paid to read, and research, and think, and talk to colleagues. How awesome is that? And omg, there is so much to catch up on. I got here a month ago, and it has been difficult to get on a roll, mostly because getting out of COVID teaching survival mode has taken longer than I expected. I knew I needed an external kick, so I volunteered to speak at our weekly colloquium. I mean, I would need to at some point, right? Then I panicked. Then I remembered that my goal was to introduce my research specifically so I could find out how I fit in, and to get feedback. Not a conference paper. Just scary smart people.

It did not go without a hitch. As I was pulling the talk together, somewhat closer to the wire than planned, I managed to kill the external drive with pretty much all of my recent backups. I’ve been trying to make sense of the horrendous mess that is what happens when you don’t file things correctly and also when you transfer info from an old computer to a new one and Apple creates a new archive every time, so there are multiple versions of the same files all over the place, because you opened and worked on one, or just opened one to see what it was, but you did that several times, so you don’t know what the actual current version is… Anyway, so I’d pulled everything from the cloud to the backup drive so that I could weed out extras and set up a new Dropbox and also have room to run Time Machine on the other external drive that was way too full of backups with too many files.

This was not the sort of excitement that I was hoping for.

The immediate issue became not “do I have time to run this thing through a translator and then tweak it and make sure that the German works?”, but rather, “Oh shit — do I have any backups of the images I needed for slides? Reader, I had one. I am sure that there are backups somewhere. Just not accessible when I needed them. Also, I had had the good sense to put my database, which I have been using since I built version 1 for my PhD thesis, onto my computer before I started the cleanup. Go me! but I digress.

I pulled something together. It was not edited as well as I’d liked, because I’d spent my 90 minutes of last-run-though time trying to get the external drive to work. Some of you have watch me flying by the seat of my pants before, so might not be surprised. I’m happy to say that this was not the case yesterday. I may have had a draft that had to be re-patched a bit, but I knew what was in it. I knew where I had meant to make cuts, and made them on the fly, albeit a bit awkwardly. My colleagues learned some things, and asked good questions, hard questions, kind questions. I tried to give them good answers, and I think some were. And some were me thinking out loud and rambling till I ended up with “those are things I think might help answer your question, but honestly, I’m not sure.”

At the end, I had my usual panic over whether I had embarrassed myself, as you do. My colleagues, especially my friends amongst them, assured me that it was fine, and I had not.

I woke up this morning and felt more mentally alive and connected to my field than I have in years. Years.

It’s a good feeling.

Where is this going? I learned a thing!
One Comment leave one →
  1. Sharon permalink
    10 April, 2022 8:27 pm

    I’m so glad the talk went well!–discussion feeds further work. Also, felicitations on sabbatical, though delayed. 🙂

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