Preparing for a Study/Research/Sabbatical Leave

by Marjorie Mitchell
Librarian, Learning and Research Services
UBC Okanagan Library

Ah, sabbatical. The term can conjure up many images to many people. Maybe yours is a vision of a quiet office at home with the whole day ahead to read some scholarly articles, wrestle with the mound of data you’ve been meaning to get to for months, and, perhaps, to write. Maybe you have plans to travel and present at a number of conferences. Maybe you want to spend some quality time with your collaborator and put the finishing touches on a project you’ve worked on for the better part of the past two years. Whatever your ideal there is a certain amount of planning that needs to take place before it can happen.

I am on the cusp of my leave. At my institution, the University of British Columbia, it is called Study Leave and it “permits a member of faculty to pursue study or research, of benefit to the individual and the University…” (UBC/UBCFA, 2014). Planning has taken most of a year and had some unexpected twists and turns. I outline here some of the steps I took and hope it assists others planning their leaves. Different people will have different requirements and different goals. This only reflects my experience.

My first step to securing leave was a conversation with my supervisor. This discussion had the dual purpose of notifying my supervisor I was thinking seriously about this request, but also of testing the waters with them. Would they be supportive of my request? Was this a good time, institutionally, for me to take leave, or could we negotiate a time that would be better? Was the topic I wanted to investigate one that not only interested me but one that would have benefit to the University when I returned? This wasn’t the only conversation, but it started the process in a very systematic way. It also started to identify the long (much, much longer) list of questions I would work through over the year.

Planning covered the logistical requirements of being away from not only the workplace, but also leaving the country for a year, as well as beginning to develop the intended intellectual content of the leave (the real work of the leave). There were a few areas where these meld together, but, for the most part they occupied different streams of planning.

Many people work at institutions where librarians have a long and established history of taking sabbatical or study leaves, and, because of this, the procedure is, if not clearer and simpler, then at least documented and standardized. My institution is 10 years old, and I am only the second librarian to take a leave, and the first librarian to take a 12 month leave in a completely different location. Because of this institutional youthfulness, it took effort to find the required forms, to determine whether I was completing them thoroughly enough, to track down the written confirmation of my leave (verbal confirmation arrived quite speedily), and to gather all the information I needed for the academic visitor visa application.

On the intellectual content side of this equation my topic was clear to me right from the start: research data management. Here in Canada, libraries have been working on research data management supports for faculty and the intensity of the conversations on this topic have only been increasing. Libraries in the UK have been supporting their researchers systematically for some time because a number of their grant funding bodies have made research data management a condition to be met by researchers receiving funding. So not only did I have a topic (Research Data Management), but also a location (the UK).

In preparation to delve more deeply into this I took two steps that laid a solid groundwork for my leave. The first was to attend the Canadian Association of Research Libraries Librarians’ Research Institute in late June. The Institute gathers 28 participants and five mentors for a focused and intense look at doing the work of research from developing a research problem through methods, theory, data, writing and, finally, dissemination. I now have a set of great tools along with a supportive group of peers as I head into my leave. The second step I took was to contact librarians at my destination who have already been researching aspects of my topic to arrange for one-on-one meetings with them. All the people I approached responded positively and I am looking forward to some interesting and informed conversations after I get to the UK.

The kernels of wisdom I hope you take away are to start planning early, be persistent and patient in equal measures, and develop a network of people outside of your workplace to sustain your momentum. I’m looking forward to a wonderful research adventure this year.


University of British Columbia & The Faculty Association of the University of British Columbia. (2014). Collective agreement between the University of British Columbia and the Faculty Association of the University of British Columbia, July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.