My sabbatical is only about a month away and my plans for it are starting to come more into focus. Of course, when I submitted my proposal a year ago, I had no way of knowing how much the world was going to change between then and now. So even as my overall plan has stayed the same, my vision of what my sabbatical will look like has had to change quite a bit and my feelings about it are a little more mixed than they might have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened or if the United States had gotten it under better control by now.
The truth is, this sabbatical was always going to bring with it things to be excited about and things that would be challenging. But there are a couple of items in each category that have been on my mind as the start date approaches.(1)
Looking forward to
Challenging myself with new research methods: Most of the research I’ve published up to this point hasn’t been anything with a particularly formal methodology, certainly nothing that required IRB approval. But as my research plans for the next six or so months starts to come into focus, I’ve realized that my best next step with the research I want to do is probably interviews with populations who have direct experience with my topics of interest. I’ve never done interviews before in any sort of capacity, so I’ve been spending some time recently trying to learn about how to plan, conduct, and analyze data from interviews. This has been a little challenging since access to my own library’s print collection is limited and access to print ILL materials is currently unavailable, but I’ve managed to find some good resources that spell out what I need to know pretty clearly. Whether or not I’ll be able to get anyone to talk to me is another matter (assuming IRB approval) but if it happens, I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to get from it.
A deep dive into the literature on a topic of interest: My original sabbatical proposal detailed a project in which I planned to take a deep dive into the literature on creative writing pedagogy. At the time I wrote it, I had only a vague sense of why it was important to learn about this topic in such depth but now I have a much clearer idea of how it’s going to be important for me to build a foundation of knowledge in this area if I want to move forward with some of my research. While I’ve managed to read some pieces here and there, I’m looking forward to having time and space to really work my way through the information I can find. Unfortunately, since a lot of the key pieces on this topic seem to be in book form, this is going to be at least somewhat complicated by my limited access to print materials at the moment (though that may change with time) as well as financially necessary cutbacks in my library’s access to digital resources, but hopefully I’ll be able to access enough information to get what I need.
Freedom from most committee work for now: Okay, so I’ve made it pretty clear in past posts that committee work isn’t my favorite thing to do, so a big part of the appeal of a sabbatical is being released from that part of my job. Which is to say, I’m still planning to participate in the committees I’m a member of on the national level but I’m hoping to take a break from the more local ones. Not having to worry about committee meetings and committee projects for a little while will definitely be a relief.
Isolation and getting burned out on working from home: As I write this, businesses and schools in the United States are sending people back to work and students back to school even though it’s far from safe to do so. Amidst that, I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve experienced little or no pressure to go back to the office, for which I’m grateful. Being on sabbatical also means I’ll be mostly if not completely immune to any changes in policy around WFH until March. That said, working from home is certainly safer but it’s not without its challenges, even for someone like me who has only herself and her cat to worry about on a day-to-day basis. In the time since I started working from home in March, I’ve already experienced feelings of social isolation…and that’s with all of the usual work-related Zoom meetings on my calendar. As much as I’m looking forward to a release from committee work and that type of thing, I’m a little worried about how being on sabbatical might further diminish my social connections. When you’re working from home, there’s also a sameness to every day that I’ve found to be both disorienting and somewhat maddening, especially when it feels like there’s nowhere to (safely) go. I imagine there will be good days and bad days with this, as there have been all along.
Falling out of the loop: There’s a lot going on right now at my library and my university. Much of it is communicated widely but, like at a lot of institutions, you usually hear the important stuff through the grapevine long before it makes it into an official campus message. Of course, having access to rumors isn’t always a good thing since rumors can be wrong but it’s going to be hard not being part of the conversation quite as much as usual, especially since the six months that I’ll be gone are going to be pretty crucial to figuring out how and whether the university and the library will be moving forward, a lot of which will depend on what happens with the pandemic more widely.
Of course, all of this is assuming that the current status quo with my own health and the health of people who might depend on me if they become sick remains the same as it is now (knock on wood), which is certainly not a guarantee. There will also likely be joys and challenges in the next six months that I have no way of anticipating from here. But even as I’ve had to adjust my expectations, it’s good to know that even with the challenges I am thinking about, something worthwhile will almost certainly result from this experience.
(1) Just wanted to insert the usual disclaimer recognizing that the opportunity to go on a voluntary, fully paid research sabbatical while so many are sick and/or unemployed or underemployed or employed in positions that don’t enable them to keep themselves safe is an enormous privilege given the current public health and economic crises in this country.