Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What does a sabbatical do?

I've been on campus for a few things recently, and while it's nice to be missed (it really is!), the downside is realizing that the sabbatical is coming to an end. There's still the summer, but still.

Although I haven't done All The Things, I've done enough to feel reasonably good, though it still seems as though I wasted a lot of time. I'll keep working on All The Things.

But the main thing that the sabbatical did was to give me back a sense of joy and curiosity. If something interested me, I could follow it and read about it and above all think about it, often to good effect.

I know that this isn't the path to research that GetALifePhd and other efficiency experts, like Paul Sylvia,  recommend, where you state that you will have 15 points to develop by 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday and you just do it. Maybe if you have data, that's the way it works.

But maybe that's the difference between the humanities and the social sciences. We really have only a few weapons in our arsenal: curiosity, knowledge, and the ability to think about the two together in productive ways to see what's been done and what needs to be done in terms of research.

When you're pressed for time, as we all are during the school year, we're a little like our students. We don't have the time to follow those winding paths, or Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit holes, so we try to answer immediate questions. Our students use the first results on Google, and though we might not do that, we use the same process of working for efficiency in an answer rather than for complexity.

During the sabbatical, I learned a lot of things I needed to know, but I also learned a lot of things that I didn't need to know, or at least that I don't need immediately. That's not a waste of time. That's the point of a sabbatical.


gwinne said...

Undine, I very much appreciate this. I also haven't finished All The Things, or even the Main Big Thing. But I have given myself the space to gestate some ideas and, read, too, in unexpected places...your post is a good reminder that that *is* productive and important.

My own department culture makes a distinction between "sabbatical" which means you can completely divorce yourself from all departmental goings-on and "leave from teaching" (i.e. as result of a grant, or pre-tenure release time) which means you still have service obligations. I'm in the latter camp, right now, on a fairly hefty service-load, so it's been tricky navigating the joys and focus of time off with the need to be on call. That is, I'm eagerly anticipating being on a REAL sabbatical in another couple years.

Flavia said...

Amen. I've been thinking about the a lot, too--the need to let one's mind wander; may post about it myself. Did you see this NYT opinion column the other day?

The Phytophactor said...

Over a longish career I managed to take 4 sabbaticals and don't think I would have survived otherwise. Of course when you want to study rain forest, you have to have the opportunity to get away from classrooms & labs and especially the office. These tropical interludes ultimately provided my students with a rain forest field trip course (long-running & successful). A book I never would have written otherwise, and some of my best research. Teaching is very hard work, demanding, particularly if you do it well. And if you don't intellectually recharge you find yourself on an academic treadmill, working hard to go nowhere fast. Unfortunately you may find yourself working for people who think you do very little work at all, and therefore, deserve little if any time off.