Ask the grumpies: Postpone sabbatical to try for funding or not?

Lisa asks:

I’m curious about your experiences being on leave. I am supposed to be on sabbatical in the spring, but the sabbatical funding I applied for did not pan out, and I have been so preoccupied with the mess [in my department] that I have been unable to make an alternate plan. I’m trying to decide whether to cancel/postpone my sabbatical or go ahead with it and hang out elsewhere as much as possible. I won’t be able to offload everything, but could offload some of it. But I hate to “waste” a sabbatical and don’t think postponing would be a problem (the Dean is well aware of the mess and the amount of involvement I have with it). It sounds like the leave has been good for you even if you’re not really “gone”.

I would definitely see what the rules are on postponing— Ours are competitive and we’re not allowed to postpone.  Also if you get a sabbatical after X years, does that mean your next sabbatical won’t be until X+1 years?

I knew the department head in another related department and just asked if I could have a desk over there.  It’s in another building.  He said yes and wrote me a letter of support.  They had space to give me a desk in an office with a window, which I wasn’t expecting.  There’s even a couch although it’s a bit musty.  (Everyone remarks on how cool the couch is but nobody actually sits on it.)  I changed my parking permit over and informed my current head that those were the dates I was no longer doing service (though I actually did process a bunch of course waivers after that date, and of course I also did the promotion and tenure stuff I wasn’t allowed to not do).

You should be able to offload everything. The best part of sabbatical is breaking service ties and starting fresh when you get back. (I won’t be able to this time— the chair has kept my spot for me as program coordinator and we’re now hiring for 6 new positions instead of just the 5. And adding I don’t know how many new programs without any thought put into them because the new college president values speed over anything else.). If you can’t do that it might make sense to wait until you can.

For academic readers– saving up for a half-paid full year leave is wonderful if you can do it. The first time we were able to do it, DH really got why savings might be useful.  Before then I think it was just something he did because it made me freak out less.

I’ve definitely felt more “away” when I’ve actually been in another state and my time away has been more respected in those instances.  But also we haven’t had to deal with finding housing or renting out our house, so that’s something.  Currently our furnishings are probably too worn to rent to people and there’s that awful Trump flag across the street.

Grumpy academics:  What are your thoughts on local vs. away sabbaticals and on postponing a year?

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7 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Postpone sabbatical to try for funding or not?”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    We didn’t go away this last year because my job then wouldn’t accommodate it and also the thought of taking all three kids along did not spark joy. Maybe next time!

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      (My spouse had a full year sabbatical last year. I very much did not.)

    • Lisa Says:

      Was it worth taking the leave anyway? (For the spouse, I guess). What did they do with the full year of leave? I’m wondering if I should make some plans and shake off as much departmental stuff as I can and just go for it.

      • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

        He did a fair bit of research, went to meetings, put a few projects and other lingering work things to bed, and got to be the Default Parent (this is because I’m mean). A lot of flexibility, low stress, no meetings, no service. He got exercise and all! It was definitely more relaxing than just a semester. (For boring and complicated reasons he got full pay though.)

  2. xykademiqz Says:

    Postpone if you can. I had a sabbatical during Covid so that worked like gangbusters. Now I don’t get another one for years. (My first sabbatical, I had a newborn. My second, there waas Covid and massive grant writing efforts. I would like to have one sabbatical where I go somewhere and catch a little bit of f*&$ing break. Maybe when all the kids are grown. *sigh*)

  3. CG Says:

    We get a guaranteed semester of sabbatical after 6 semesters of teaching, or a full year sabbatical after 12 semesters of teaching. My chair at the time wouldn’t let me take my semester sabbatical the last time I was owed it because of staffing issues, so I waited and took the full year. We don’t get “credit” for postponing, and the clock starts again after the sabbatical, so it’s to your disadvantage to postpone. I have never traveled or done anything exotic during my sabbaticals, but I have gotten a lot of work done. Spouse has a good salary so the pay hit during sabbaticals has not been a big issue for us. So, I’m sure you’re already thinking about: 1. Will it be okay/stressful to take a sabbatical without funding? 2. Will you be disadvantaged by postponing or not? 3. Do you have a good project to do, even without funding, to make the sabbatical productive? If not too stressful financially and you think you’ll have work to do, I’d go for it. If you’d otherwise lose the sabbatical and you can swing it financially, I’d also go for it. If you won’t be disadvantaged by postponing and you think you could make better use of it later, then maybe wait. Good luck!

  4. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for all of the comments, it’s interesting to see how different sabbatical rules can be! We are eligible for a sabbatical after 6 years of service, but remain eligible if we don’t take it. Very few people in my college, and also it seems on my campus do take sabbaticals. Only one colleague in my department has taken one in the 15 years I’ve been here. We can take 3 months with full pay, 6 months with 95% pay, 9 months with 87% pay or 12 months with 80% pay. I have never taken a sabbatical, but I did spend a month abroad working with a collaborator several years ago and loved it (the whole family came and we had a lovely month in a new country).

    Over a year ago I applied for (and was approved for) a 6 month sabbatical Jan-June 2023. I had applied for funding to spend ~3 of those months abroad, but since the funding didn’t come through, I have not followed through with making plans to go abroad using discretionary funds. I probably could have done this, but a bunch of crap went on in my department that required much of my attention and I got distracted. Now it’s definitely too late to plan any sabbatical travel, unless I wanted to try to travel a bit over the summer. Our departmental crap is ongoing and seems likely to require more of my attention next semester. Part of me wants to do what I can to help improve things while another part of me wants to hang out somewhere far away and let other people figure out how to solve the problems.

    As far as offloading things goes, I have already taken care of my teaching responsibilities by front-loading things this year in anticipation of the sabbatical. I can probably get out of most of my departmental and college responsibilities. I have campus-level administrative responsibilities that I can’t get out of – I would have helped find an interim person if I was going away for sabbatical, but since I got distracted, this hasn’t happened, and there will be things I have to take care of. And of course my research team needs some attention for the semester, no matter where I am.

    All told, the idea of hiding out somewhere across campus as much as possible for the next 6 months sounds kind of nice. I could focus on research in a way I haven’t been able to in a while, and spend some time hanging out in other departments. I am concerned that I may be pulled into the departmental messes, but if this happens it would be the Dean’s doing and I could probably negotiate for a sabbatical do-over in that case. I guess that my main concerns are 1) will I get sucked into political crap that infringes on my sabbatical and 2) will I be sorry that I “wasted” the sabbatical and don’t get another one for 6 more years? I really want a “proper” sabbatical in some exciting and new place, but this just won’t work for our family right now. The small salary cut isn’t an issue (although I think I am probably supposed to be getting 95% salary for the whole year and I’m pretty sure they haven’t made this cut yet, not sure how that will play out), the funding I applied for was to cover travel and living expenses abroad, which I don’t need.

    Anyway, thank you for the responses and for sharing experiences!


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