Sunday, May 7, 2017

What is the most productive way to use a sabbatical? (Michael Simkovic)

Every 6 to 7 years, some professors are offered one semester or one year without teaching or administrative duties.  Some use the opportunity to start an ambitious research project, like a book.  Others upgrade their skills by taking courses toward another advanced degree.  Some work in government or for a large corporation, gaining new insights into their areas of interest.  Still others visit another institution, for example where important research collaborators or resources are located.

Since sabbaticals are rare events—perhaps occurring 4 times in a career or less—any individual faculty member will have relatively limited personal experience to draw upon and will instead rely on the collective wisdom of his or her peers.

What do you think are some of the best ways to spend a sabbatical and why? 

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Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink


Many good ways to "spend" a sabbatical. One can argue that it's also an investment for the professor as well as the school. Perhaps an alternative use, particularly for a more senior academic would be at once pragmatic and perspective-changing. Using the concept "of counsel" one could have "working sabbatical" in which the professor could be a visiting professor at his or her own school. Attend as a student or as a co-presenter in classes outside of their direct area of expertise. Be available during the day to be an ad hoc mentor to students and colleagues alike. To be sure, such a professor would still be working - in a sense - and this would be an unorthodox sabbatical, but it would nonetheless be highly restorative for an academic to get a break from the day-to-day aspects and demands of teaching while giving them fresh eyes of the environment they work in. A semester of this could well serve the school in its periodic preparation for accreditation assessments. This "senior status" could also help a professor explore innovative approaches to use when they go back to the classroom fulltime.

Posted by: M. F. Tobin | May 7, 2017 7:22:19 AM

Go as far away from your home campus as possible. The distance can be very intellectually stimulating.

Posted by: Gerard Magliocca | May 7, 2017 5:47:56 PM

I mused on Prawfs a while back that law schools might consider giving more frequent sabbaticals in the condition that more of them be spent in legal practice. Legal academics would have to accustom themselves to taking legal work commensurate with their lack of experience and relevant credentials, but learning anything at all, even by observing, would be a benefit, and they would (I trust) work for free. Here's the excerpt: "Perhaps sabbaticals should be given more frequently but with the caveat that every other sabbatical must be spent volunteering or practicing as a lawyer; or perhaps the obligation to do something of the kind could be tied to the reduced course loads most of us enjoy. No matter how ethereal some of us have become in our work, we might find work as clerks or runners or junior assistants to state legislators; even spending every day for a year sitting in a courtroom and watching arraignments and pleas would be of some value in enriching our perspective.)"

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 8, 2017 7:46:16 AM

Glad to see the author take such a capacious view of sabbaticals -- beyond just "research leave." These really should be enriching experiences, both personally for the professor and then in return for the institution. Other possibilities include setting up a new center, curriculum, or program at one's law school or university.

Posted by: Paul Diller | May 8, 2017 4:56:48 PM

i spent 3 very productive sabbaticals in London. got a ton of writing done. distance, no other academic duties, chance to talk to people. got my best teaching evaluations after sabbaticals. get out of town; make a firm commitment to writing and find an academic place to perch.

Posted by: joel dobris | May 8, 2017 5:00:00 PM

At least since tenure, I've tried to use my sabbaticals to go to other countries and to do things very different from what I'd do otherwise. This seems to me consistent with the derivation of the term, which implies a rest every seventh day (year), but--and here my Hebrew School background rears its head--a rest that replenishes one's mind and spirit rather than just a "break." I don't think there's anything wrong with a research leave, but it's not exactly the same as a sabbatical: and what exactly are we doing the other six years, if not research?

Posted by: mike livingston | May 9, 2017 2:03:42 AM

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