Planning for a First-Time Sabbatical

by DeDe Dawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Happy New Year, Brain-Work readers!

2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year for me professionally. This is my sixth year as a tenure-track academic librarian at the University of Saskatchewan and, as I type these words, my tenure file is making its way through the various campus committees. If all goes well (i.e. my tenure is awarded!), I will be eligible for my first sabbatical as of July 1st, 2015.

Of course, administerial planning for such things has to happen many months in advance, so I was composing my sabbatical application back in September 2014. As it happens, I was working on the application the same day that Kristin Hoffmann’s Brain-Work blog post, Taking Time for Research, came out. The post described her recent sabbatical experiences and highly recommended the experience to all researching librarians lucky enough to have the opportunity. Well, the timing certainly felt auspicious!

I am happy to report that my sabbatical application has been approved and is also now working its way through the university administration. So, with the same caveat as above (if all goes well!), I will be a first-time sabbaticant for the 2015/16 year. Thinking about my upcoming leave I wondered what sage advice the Google oracle could provide. I have collected this short list of tips to share:

Sabbatical First Timer Tips

1. “The time to plan your sabbatical is well before it begins, up to a year or more prior in fact.” [Link]
This key bit of wisdom came from one of the first articles I stumbled across. Thanks to my application, I already have a broad outline of my sabbatical research project, and a smaller related project. However, I think I’ll also try to get some preliminary work underway this spring so that I waste no time and hit the ground running as of July 1st.

2. “The best tip a friend … got, while unemployed, was to get out of bed at a reasonably early hour, shower, shave and dress as though he had somewhere to go. He found this made him much more interested in using his time productively… Have a schedule, work every day, and feel great about your precious, precious sabbatical. You’ve earned it.” [Link]
This was #10 from a top ten list of sabbatical tips for junior faculty. Many of the other tips were useful too, but this one really resonated with me. I am not planning any extended travel and am hoping to get a workspace on campus during my sabbatical… but I know it is likely that I’ll also often work from home – because I can! And also, on the dark and frigid days of a Saskatchewan winter I know I will not want to leave the house if I don’t have to. So… how to stay motivated and productive from home? The thought of staying in my pajamas all day is appealing, but getting dressed and keeping to a schedule seems like a good strategy to maintain focus.

3. “Keep a daily research journal.”
This tip comes not from the Google oracle, but from an equally wise colleague of mine: Vicky Duncan. A research journal is useful for keeping track of your evolving research projects, insights and epiphanies, and any methodology decisions you make along the way…and why you made them! Seems to be a good idea for researchers in general (not just sabbaticants). However, I think a journal might be especially useful next year since I intend to spend a good portion of my sabbatical time reading deeply and simply thinking about what I’ve read. Lately, I often find myself just skimming research articles in a few spare minutes I have here and there during the day. So I am eagerly anticipating having the time and mental space to thoroughly immerse myself in scholarly literature. I can already anticipate the result of this though: an extended time period where I have no obvious products. Keeping a daily research journal of my reading, and the ideas that emerge, will be a nice reassurance to myself that I am making progress and have accomplished something.

4. “Don’t be under the illusion that you’ll get tons done. Be realistic and don’t beat yourself up.”
Actually this isn’t a direct quote, but my own summation from multiple sources! It seems many people have unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish in this time frame, and also forget that one of the purposes of sabbaticals is to recharge your batteries. And that brings me to my final tip…

5. “My plea to my striving colleagues is to be true to the origins of the word. Don’t do nothing—but don’t focus on your usual activities either. Do not till the same soil; dare to do things differently for a year. You will be doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing— honoring your profession and the confidence placed in you— when you explore new areas, pursue projects that might fail, expand your mind with art or music or great literature, and generally upset your routine.” [Link]
A good tip to end on. A burnt-out academic cannot contribute much to their institution or discipline. I must admit that the first six years on the tenure-track, in a new profession, have left me just a little *tired*. This sabbatical leave is coming at an ideal time. A time when I am passing a significant hurdle in my professional life (if all goes well!), a time when I’m growing in confidence as a researcher and am eager to really concentrate on a substantial project, and a time when I feel I need a change of pace… to step back and take a breath.

Well, these are some of the best tips I’ve collected so far, I’m sure there is a lot more advice out there. If you have a nugget of wisdom to contribute to the list please leave a comment below!

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.