My Plan Not To Waste My Sabbatical

I heard yesterday that I will have a sabbatical or developmental leave year next year. That’s pretty exciting because I haven’t had a year off from teaching since 2007-2008 when I was the Carpenter Fellow at the ole American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

So I am beginning to plan my sabbatical year and I looked through my journals and my blog posts to figure out what I did last time I was on leave and what I should try to approach differently for this year. The result is a little list that I made up just for myself as a kind of reminder of what I learned last time I was on leave. 

1. Don’t over do it right out of the gate. Last time I was on leave, I hit the ground running and worked long hour from day one. In fact, the first two weeks on leave I was basically on my own in Athens with most of Greece (and American School staff) enjoying their August holiday. I got into the habit of working long hours and developed an ambitious research plan.

Then, about 5 months into my leave, I crashed. The pace and hours I had set were unsustainable with breaks for teaching, service obligations, and my normal social routine (e.g. dinner with my wife, a little NBA action a few nights a week, et c.). By March, I was spinning my wheels and my productivity slipped to nearly zero. And I was exhausted.

In the end, I might have accomplished more by my flailing attack on my leave year, but I certainly didn’t feel refreshed or satisfied when I got back to North Dakota. I need to pace myself this year. 

2. Don’t try to do things that I can’t do. Another problem with my last effort at leave was that I tried to convert my dissertation into a book. The instinct was good, but at the end of the day, I don’t think in book length segments. In fact, I struggle to think in 8,000 – 10,000 word segments (some people would argue that I’m not quite up to the task of a blog post). 

On my last year of leave, I decided to try to write a book. And it was, predictably, a disaster. I wrote a draft of something. It is pretty strange and more like an article or an article and a chapter in something that I’d never or couldn’t finish. And it compounded my frustration of spinning my wheels for the last few months of sabbatical and returning to classes emotionally exhausted. 

So, this time, there is no book project (yet) and there is no ambitious program to pen a concept album. I just need to write my way, think in little chunks, and churn out my own unique brand of mediocre pop. 

3. Take time to catch up on reading. One thing that I did do well last time I was on leave is that I dedicated time each day to read. I am so far behind in reading in my field that it is almost embarrassing. In fact, I was leafing through the book reviews in the Journal of Roman Archaeology recently and it took me several minutes to realize that it was the 2010 volume. It all looked so fresh and exciting!

I need to catch up.

4. Load up research for the future. Along the same lines as catching up on reading, I was very successful in loading up on research material during my last sabbatical. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I continue to mine this material even today as I polish off some long lingering projects

My last sabbatical gave me access to a pair of world class research libraries, and I don’t think I’ll have the same access this time around. At the same time, I need to concentrate some focused research time on assembling and organizing materials for research ideas that are not fully formed. In contrast to my need to read expansively in my field, I also need to hunt and gather and pull together some of the more obscure but high quality material in my field especially as I push my research into new areas  like the (the Western Argolid) and new periods (the 7th and 8th centuries) which I understand broadly but not on any detail.  

5. Start new things. The final thing that I did right last time I was on sabbatical is that I started some new things. As with most academics, I’m fundamentally conservative and prefer well-trod paths to wild flights of fancy. And I know that I need to temper my enthusiasm or I’ll burn through my increasingly limited energy and attention reserves in the first few months of sabbatical and have nothing left for the long North Dakota winter. At the same time, I have to do something new to keep my interest in my so-called academic career.

So stay tuned over the next 18 months as I try my hand at this sabbatical thing again. Madcap blogging adventures will undoubtedly ensure.  

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