Sabbatical Diary: Starting from a Strong Foundation

Stone Foundation Last month, I kicked off what will be a year-long series on life during a sabbatical. In today’s post, I hope to generate some discussion about what you can do before a sabbatical begins so you start off smoothly and easily. I spent a couple of months before mine started this month doing a few things I will outline below, and I hope readers will contribute more suggestions in the comments.

  • Decide What Projects You Will Work on and When. When you applied for your sabbatical, you probably had to outline your research plans for your time away from campus. Most people I have talked with focused their application on one large project, but they often had other projects they intended to work on as well. My proposal focused on a book project, which I intend to pursue actively, but I have several projects that I also want to finish and a few I might start. There are two articles I intend to finish this summer. In the fall, I plan to conduct intensive archival research, but I also have one article I want to finish before the end of the year. I like having two or three things to work on at once because I like engaging with different parts of the writing process at the same time. While I’m in the planning stages of one project, I will also be revising another. Few people can write all day. I certainly can’t. But a couple of hours of writing followed by a couple of hours of revising followed by a couple of hours of research and notetaking would be a very productive day. Of course, you should give yourself some flexibility. You may hit a wall with one project or break through one with another, which could alter your plans. These decisions should not be seen as constraints but as concrete starting points. This is why I have not decided what I will do during the spring or next summer. I will wait to see where I am in December and go from there.
  • Collect Previous Research and Notes. We all have projects we either fully intend to pursue or might pursue at some point, and many of us collect articles and make notes whenever the opportunity arises. A friend mentions an article in a hallway conversation or a presentation at a conference gets you thinking on how to conclude that essay you started three years ago. Once you know when your sabbatical begins, spending the weeks or months before its official start going through these materials to see what you have and what you still need to do. I had some articles bookmarked online and others photocopied and sitting in various spots at home and on campus. I also had notes on index cards and scraps of paper that are older than I care to admit. I created digital and analog folders to bring all of these things together. Doing so showed me that I already had some pretty good ideas written down, and I already had copies of articles I thought I had to get. And now that I am in the sabbatical, it’s great to read an article and know that I already have a copy of one or two of its key citations.
  • Find Out What Kinds of Approval You Need to Start or Finish Projects. If you need IRB approval, get it sooner than later, especially since more and more universities require applicants to complete an online or face-to-face workshop before even being allowed to apply. And you may need to get IRB approval from multiple places if you will be holding fellowships or other positions at different universities during your sabbatical. If you know you are going to be working with archives, find out what you need to do to gain access to them. Also, find out what you have to do to quote from the materials you find there, if possible. Are there forms to fill out or estates to contact? Will they allow you to take photographs or can you only take notes? Will it cost you anything to make photocopies or to publish particular images? As one example, I know how much one archive will ask me to pay if I publish one of its photographs. Since the cost is more than I can afford, I know now that I have to take time to describe it in detail in whatever I write and will not be able to simply say, “Refer to Figure One.” I think it is better to know that now. I also might be able to apply for funds to publish such images.

Do you have anything to add? My list focuses on research sabbaticals. If you are on sabbatical because you plan to teach somewhere abroad or closer to home, you will need to do different things, and I hope those of you with such experiences will discuss them in the comments. Also, let me know if you have any questions or topics I can cover in future posts on the subject of sabbaticals.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user nhighberg]

Return to Top