Seeking Sabbatical Advice

editsIt’s a fun time for me to be a Juntoist. I joined the blog while I was ABD, on the brink of defending my dissertation. I had thoughts about research and writing, many untested theories about teaching, and opinions about where historians needed to eat when visiting archives in different cities. This was a blog for junior early Americanists, and I didn’t think too much about how the blog would grow and evolve over the next several (!) years. Definitions of junior scholars (“early career researchers” here in the United Kingdom) vary across the UK. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s definition is someone within eight years of the PhD or within six years of their first academic appointment. Within my faculty, ECRs include “level 4” staff within four years of being hired or recently hired. Thus when I passed my probation, was promoted to level 5, and became a permanent member of staff, I became a non-ECR by my faculty’s definition but still eligible to apply for AHRC ECR funding and funding from other schemes.[1] All this is a long way of saying that I’m a Not So Early Early Career Researcher™ about to embark on her first sabbatical, and would like your advice about how to approach this period of leave.

This upcoming stretch of time off is different from previous periods of writing and editing. When I joined this blog I was on fellowship, after spending the previous year on fellowship. I’d done most of my writing and editing, in other words, in a vacuum devoid of teaching and advising responsibilities. I was also on these fellowships for nine months or a year. This time around, I’ll have October thru January (I’m not officially on sabbatical yet; I still have administrative and advising responsibilities until the end of September because our MA students submit this month). I’ll also still have students getting in touch to talk about any undergraduate theses I’ll advise in the spring.

I have a few strategies in mind for managing my time as I sit down and wrangle the first book into final shape. Here’s what I’m thinking:

On self-care

  • I’m buying new pairs of sabbatical pants, because I write and edit best while wearing an elastic waistband.
  • I plan to exercise regularly, because I know most of my writing and editing epiphanies happen when I’m not sitting in front of my computer.
  • I’ve subscribed to a new food magazine, because baking and cooking are hobbies, and because down-time is important in this whole process.

On writing and editing

  • First is saying a big thank you to the colleagues who have taken over the majority of my administrative duties while I’m on leave. I know I need to be protective of my leave time, and after discussing it with people on Twitter, have decided I will probably put up a semester-long out-of-office message.
  • I plan to break down my to-do list of edits into manageable chunks, starting with the feedback I received from readers’ reports. I want to start with the feedback that pertains to only one or two chapters, and to work up to sharpening the overall structure and argument of the book.
  • I want to take part of this sabbatical to read: to read the new books and articles that have been on my list (and ones I’ve recently added, thanks to Sara Georgini), and that maybe aren’t even relevant to the book project. I think it will be helpful to hear other historians’ voices in my head as I continue to make the former dissertation into a book.

I know this is a pretty cursory list, and part of what I love about the way that The Junto has evolved is our more senior readership. So my questions here are for our more seasoned readers:

How did you make the most of your sabbaticals? What did you do to set reasonable boundaries with your advisees and people making administrative requests for your return to campus? What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your first sabbatical? For the large proportion of our readership dealing with adjunctification, how can we think productively about ways to maximize a sabbatical when someone finally lands a permanent job? Have at it in the comments, please!


[1] Becoming permanent and passing probation is the UK equivalent of getting tenure. It is not as big a deal here as it is in the U.S.


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