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Sabbatical Diary: What They Are and How to Apply for One

Drowning Over the next year, I will be cutting back my ProfHacker posts to one per month as I will be on sabbatical.  Since our goal here at PH is to talk about ways of handling various aspects of academic life for diverse people from a range of perspectives, I plan to make that post part of a series on sabbaticals, including what they are and how to use them as effectively as possible while seeking feedback from readers about how their experiences compare.  In this first installment, it makes sense to talk about what sabbaticals are and offer a few tips on how to apply for one.

Sabbaticals offer faculty, usually tenured but not always as I have discovered in seeking feedback for this post, time to focus on research.  They can run for various periods of time while typically being for a semester or a year.  Depending on the institution, faculty on sabbatical earn their full salary or some part of it.  For my year-long sabbatical, I will earn 60% of my base salary.  The money involved in giving faculty sabbaticals is a major reason why many universities have put a freeze on offering them in the current economy.  Other universities have put a freeze on sabbaticals that offer full salary but still offer those that come with partial salary (ironically, faculty who choose the option with reduced pay can save the university money in the long run, but that’s because those faculty are replaced by adjuncts, perpetuating what is already a hugely problematic situation).  Some universities guarantee a sabbatical for all junior faculty in their third or fourth year or all senior faculty after they earn tenure.  Others make it competitive, allowing faculty who have worked a certain number of years to apply.  Sabbaticals do not exist only in academia as I have heard of some corporations offering them to employees who have worked a particular amount of time (I have been told of one place that allowed employees to apply for one month of leave for each year of service after six years of employment).

To receive my sabbatical, I had to complete an application that described the research I intend to complete.  To do this, I followed the advice I offered in one of my first ProfHacker posts: pay it forward.  I asked colleagues who have gone on sabbatical in recent years for copies of their applications so that I could see how they put things together and the various elements I might include; I have also already offered my application to a couple of faculty members who will be applying this year while I am gone.  As with anything, the first thing you need to do when putting your application is to follow directions.  If you are limited by word or page count, follow those limits.  If certain information needs to be in a certain place, put it in that place.  And because following directions is important, read those directions now.  Do not wait until you are eligible to apply.  Find out now what you will need then to save you time and headaches later.

At most universities, the committee that chooses who will receive a sabbatical is made up of faculty from across the university, so write your application so that non-experts can understand it.  If you are in math, you need to remember that someone from dance may be the deciding vote on whether or not you will get the time off, and you need to convince him or her that your work has potential significance and you will put the time to good use.

Yes, this advice works for many situations other than sabbatical applications, but that does not mean we always remember it when we need it.  Often, faculty crave a sabbatical so they don’t have to give time to other activities that drain our mental and physical energies, but we are putting the applications together when we are still stressed.  Are there other pieces of advice that come to mind?  Please let us know in the comments even if you think that advice is specific to your school. It might help.

In future installments of this series, I will talk about handling finances while on sabbatical and how to find grants and fellowships.  If there are other topics you would like me to address, please let me know that in the comments, too.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user familymwr]

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