I have about a week left of sabbatical and have begun to sit back and critically assess whether I got done what I needed to get done over this year away from the classroom.
I know I’ve summarized my sabbatical at various times over the past year, so some of this will be redundant (for the three of you who read my blog every day), but most of what I’m trying to do here is to offer some general thoughts on sabbatical both for my future self and to offer some advice to my friends and colleagues who are starting their sabbatical even as we speak. (And I recognize that my approach to leave won’t work for everyone and how very fortunate I was to have this time off!).
1. Diversify (my bonds). On my last year of leave, I had a single, massive project: turn my dissertation into a book. I managed to rewrite about two and a half chapters before being completely crushed by the enormity of the task. Once crushed, I careened between feeling guilty about not doing more and frittering my time away on various side projects, and regularly developed this strange taste in my mouth at the end of the day that I associated with working hard, but not getting much done. The upshot of this experience was an unfinished (and never to be finished) manuscript, a smattering of almost random articles (as well as some that remain unfinished to this day) and realization that this is why I can’t have nice things like sabbatical. In fact, I dreaded this sabbatical because I felt like I had failed in my previous effort to take a year off to engooden myself.
By the end of last summer, I decided to embrace my weakness as a scholar and to diversify my projects. I worked on four or five things over the course of the year that ranged from the archaeology of Late Roman Cyprus, a formal article on the archaeology of workforce housing in the North Dakota, some work on archaeological method, and, of course, my Tourist Guide to the Bakken. When I began to bog down on a project, I imposed an artificial deadline, worked hard to the deadline, and then moved on to something else. The novelty of starting a new (or returning to a shelved) project kept me motivated and artificial deadlines kept me focused.
2. Spontaneity. While diversifying kept me from being bored or sinking into a malaise, I also allowed myself a certain amount of spontaneity. The Tourist Guide is the product of a spontaneous decision to try to play with that genre as a way of synthesizing and publishing my experiences in the Bakken. I allowed myself to pursue various side projects during my last leave, but I did it only after I had decided that I had failed to accomplish my main goals.
On this sabbatical, I anticipated that I might have some ideas that distracted me from my main goal(s) and allowed myself the freedom to follow these ideas. Most of them amounted to something, so I was glad that I allowed myself the freedom to take those kind of risks.
3. Preload. I find that the first part of research (and idea conjuring) always takes more focus than the writing and editing. So I did a bunch of work to preload the next two years of my life. While I still didn’t do as much reading as I would like, I feel like I can write more freely now on a wider range of topics than I could this time last year.
Also, my projects for the next two years are more or less set up. I have a couple of edited volumes to coordinate, a few almost complete articles to get accepted somewhere, and a couple book manuscripts in various states of completeness. All this should be doable over the next 24 to 36 months.
4. Give Back. A few of my colleagues have begun to stress the importance of giving back to our field. I have to admit that I had allowed myself to believe the old adage “Those who can’t, help others who can,” but some of the people who talked to me about doing more to give back to junior scholars were not in the category of “those who can’t”; in fact, they were among the most competent and dynamic scholars in my little world.
So, this past year I put more energy into giving back. I peer reviewed a half dozen article length manuscripts and two book length manuscripts. I stepped up my service to the discipline by accepting positions on committees that support organizations that made a difference to my career. Finally, I started The Digital Press as a way both to promote and publish some of my own little side projects, but more importantly, to offer a venue for other scholars.
5. Run. I am pretty old now, and I started to really feel it when in the field. Over the past 12 months I began to do something systematically about my profound lack of fitness. So for the first time in my life, I ran (err… jogged… errr… shuffled?) for close to 12 months. My weekly mileage varied a good bit as I ramped up and down how much and what kind of running I did, but it was consistently over 10 miles per week.
I think that this focus on fitness got me about a week or 10 days more energy in the field in Greece this season. I ran out of gas about midway through week 4 of a 6 week season, but the remarkable thing was that toward the end of week 6, I got a second wind.
This year I’m going to try to keep at it and work out consistently despite the added structure of teaching and on campus work. We’ll see if I can stick it out, but I hope last year build some good habits!