Ask the grumpies: How to plan a sabbatical/faculty development leave?

Nikki asks:

How do you sabbatical? Whole year (half pay) or half year (full pay)? What planning needs to happen? How do you choose a project? How do you choose someone to work with? Go it alone? Go somewhere or stay or a mix?

Lisa adds:

+1 on this – I’m dying to sabbatical but haven’t been able to work it out yet. How do you convince the family that they can also sabbatical?

So far I’ve done two of these, both whole year at half pay.  If you can swing it financially, whole year/half pay is pretty awesome both for getting lots of research done and for being unreachable for doing service (it takes them almost a year after you get back to remember to start burdening you again).

Most of the sabbatical planning guides I’m seeing online are all about the work part.  I think they’re all from an era in which the wife took care of all of the details.

Here’s some just logistic stuff.  What planning needs to happen… wow, there’s a lot.  Note I’m assuming a domestic sabbatical– if you’re doing an international sabbatical, there’s more steps.

  1. Save up financially so you can do the full year at half pay.
  2. Figure out where you’re going to go (if you’re going to go) and talk to the people you need to talk to or submit applications where they need to be submitted.  The earlier you do this the better– deadlines are surprisingly early, and your professional network may need some time (sometimes even a full year!) to get things in place for you to visit.
  3. Figure out what your university’s rules are.  Do you need to apply (competitive leave is also often on a schedule that doesn’t fit well with 2 above– just blindly do what you’re going to do anyway, assuming that you get the leave approved)?  When do you need to tell people?  Are there classes of yours that will need to be covered?  Will they have to hire a VAP?
  4. Figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your family– what do they need to do to come with you if they’re going to come/
  5. Find a real estate agent who will take care of your house if you own a house.  You’ll probably find a renter yourself via sabbaticalhomes.com or some other academic listing, but you don’t want to have to deal with the property management etc. long distance.  Unless that’s your thing or your significant other’s thing.  IMHO, it’s worth the 10% fee to have someone else deal with repairs.  Decide if you’re going to try to rent your place furnished or unfurnished.  If unfurnished, figure out where you’re going to store your stuff.
  6. Figure out where you’re going to live.  If you have kids, figure out what the school situation is going to be.  Again, if you can find something on sabbaticalhomes.com that’s likely going to be a good bet because they understand the need to live someplace for only a year and they’re more likely to have furnished places that don’t cost commercial business prices.
  7. Figure out how you’re going to deal with your graduate students while you’re gone if you have any.
  8. Figure out how taxes are going to work– currently under the TCAJA I believe you are not allowed to deduct work expenses (BUT check this! don’t take my word for it!), but I expect that some point in the future the tax break for unreimbursed work expenses will come back.  If it does you will want to see if there’s a time limit — for example, it used to be that if you were gone less than 365 days you could deduct your rent(!)  If that’s the case, you want to be sure you leave a couple days early.

How do you choose a project?  You don’t actually need to choose one, but you may have to write one up for the Powers that Be in order to convince them to let you go.  In that case, pick the project in your pipeline that would most benefit from getting off campus (do you need a dataset?  archives?), from collaborating with people off campus, or that sounds most impressive (are you in a book field?  do you have a grant to finish or grant proposal to write?).

How do you choose someone to work with?  Again, you don’t have to do this… work (or not) with whoever you would be working with anyway.  Now, you might be asking, how do I choose where to GO based on the people there.  You may or may not end up working with the people in question.  You want to go someplace where the people there do things you’re interested in and you can benefit from the research environment.

Like I said, if you can do it, going somewhere is the best, though some of my (male) colleagues will go multiple places (the wife takes care of all those pesky logistics for them), and it works out well.  I imagine a childless person could benefit from that too.  Going multiple places if you have to figure out a spouse and daycare/schooling etc. is kind of a non-starter.  You’ll spend all your time planning and either lose out on the work or the leisure.

How to convince the family to sabbatical?  Well, the kids and pets don’t get a choice.  They’re going because they can’t stay home alone.  It’s really just the significant other… and that’s got to work with the significant other’s work.  My DH has been really supportive– he took a year of unpaid leave and worked for a start-up for our first leave, and then was telecommuting for his second leave.  The only big change for him was dealing with taxes, which were crazy.  He’s really enjoyed spending the year someplace totally new and getting to know various paradises.  On his first leave, he did a project to find the best croissants in the greater metropolitan area that we were staying.  And there were a lot of bakeries to try.  (The secret:  cultured butter.)  He also really got to know a lot of local coffee shops.

We will have another one or two posts on sabbatical/leave coming up as there were more questions!

Grumpy Nation, do you have experiences to share with Nikki and Lisa?

Advertisements

How to talk about how awesome your work is without sounding like a jerk (in an academic paper)

Being a woman, and a woman not at a top 10 institution, in a field in which there is little to no double-blind reviewing, I have to walk a very fine line when promoting what is novel and new about my work compared to previous work.  This is especially hard because I do really innovative work that ends up getting cited a lot and taught in classes but faces a huge amount of push-back from the people who don’t think that way.  (When I put it like that, maybe I’m not the best person for giving advice given my lack of top general interest journal publications.)

Anyway, don’t say that you’re the first person to do something unless you’re an asshole at a top school.  They are always wrong.  They have always not done enough literature review.  But that doesn’t kill them whereas it is the death knell for the rest of us.  Don’t do it.  (I review a lot of papers and see this dichotomy in action– asshole reviewers are so pleased to bring their work to the attention of the famous white dudes, but are insulted that junior scholars should not know their important paper published 30+ years ago.)

When you’re an asshole at a top school, a good strategy is to do an extremely light literature that only cites top general interest journals.  That makes it look like your paper is new and innovative.  And people believe it is because your work doesn’t get sent out to the other people (women, junior scholars, people not at top 10 schools) who have worked on the same question because the editor doesn’t know they worked on it and you didn’t cite them, so how is the editor supposed to know.  Yes I am still really bitter about this.

When you’re not that asshole, you have to do a really complete literature review because if you don’t cite someone, the reviewers take offense and think you haven’t done a thorough lit review.  You can get away with not citing things that aren’t in your field (but I cite people outside anyway because they do work I think economists should know about– this is part of why my way of thinking about things is so innovative– innovation in economics is what another field discovered 30-50 years ago…).  You can get away with not citing things that got published in second tier field journals or lower, but if it was in a top field journal, it needs to be in your list of works cited.

Now, if you’re a white male asshole at a top school, you can make your career out of proving another top economist’s top general interest paper was wrong.  Or, if it’s a female top economist, all you really have to do is harshly question it.  If you’re female and you do this, it can destroy your budding career unless you coauthor with a senior top male economist or two who will take the credit and shift the blame to the bad paper author.

All of that aside… and back to the topic that inspired this post.

If you are a woman/non-famous person, how do you make it clear that your paper is doing new stuff without insulting your potential reviewers?  The answer, my friend, is data limitations.  Or, if it is much older work, new technology.  They *couldn’t* answer the question you’re answering because their dataset wasn’t good enough.  No fault of theirs.  You have something new to add because of your great luck or your hard work.  This probably explains why I am forever amassing new datasets instead of writing papers with the sets I already have.  (That and I’m a dilettante).

So, is this good advice?  I don’t know.  My career looks like a glass ceiling– I am very good at publishing at top field journals, but have yet to hit a top general interest journal.  Some of this is because other than my job market paper I didn’t send my work to top field journals until after tenure, but some of it is that I still don’t know how to play the game perfectly and my reputation is not such that I get the benefit of the doubt.  I still get desk rejects with useless comments for papers that end up getting accepted with minor revisions at similar journals.  There’s a lot of crap shooting going on.

(Disclaimer:  #notalleconomists are assholes, #notalltopeconomists are assholes.  Some are really nice and are generous with their citations and work and try to write the best papers they can because they care about economics and policy.  Others care a lot about playing the publication game.  I’m sure it’s similar in many lines of work.)

Options for handling the long unpaid summer

Academics and teachers are often on 9 month contracts rather than 12 month.  That means that there’s often not a paycheck coming in for 3 months out of the year.  For folks used to budgeting the 9 month paychecks as if they were 12 month, that can be a problem.

There are a number of different ways that people deal with the summer months.

Let the school do the math

Perhaps the easiest (though not economically optimal) is to ask the school to prorate the 9 month salary and pay it over 12 months.  Not all schools offer this option, though some offer it as the default (it is very common for K-12 teachers, for example).  The benefit to doing this is that no planning needs to go into this option.  The negative is that you get three months worth of income later than you would have otherwise, which means you miss out on debt repayment savings or investment gains while you wait.  Back when she was an academic, #2 chose this option. She calculated the interest she could earn on the extra money if she got it over 9 months, and it was something like $11. She decided it was worth $11 to her in order to get the same amount of money every month.

Get more $

An attractive option is to earn additional summer money, although this requires extra work.  Summer money can come in the form of teaching summer classes, taking on additional administrative roles, or getting summer money through grants.  For people who do not have university options, it is possible to take on another job or make some additional money via consulting.  #1 loves getting grant money, but it doesn’t happen every year.

Another attractive option is to be married to someone who makes enough money to live on during the summer without having to save, although this requires either luck in love or sacrifice.  This option requires not lifestyle inflating to the point where you cannot live on the spouse’s salary alone for three months.  This summer #1 is sort of doing that, but with a hefty back-up emergency fund that she’s been saving to refill after our most recent car purchase.

Save when you’re paid

For many of us, saving is the best (or only) option.  There are different ways to save.

If you generally make a lot more than your expenses, you can just save what you don’t spend and then figure out what to do with the leftover money in the Fall when you get your first paycheck of the new school year.  This method requires you to be putting away more than your required summer expenses during the school year and to be able to moderate your optional expenses based on how much you have in the bank.  This method is basically what we did the first few years when we were living like graduate students on professor salaries.  That additional money would end up going into IRAs every October.  Ironically, this is how we handled money when we didn’t have as much money because we also didn’t have enough of an emergency fund to have many luxuries built into our budget.  As our savings and income grew, we were able to take more risks with spending (ex. eating out once or twice a week), and our monthly spending has become more predictable.

If your gap between income and spending isn’t that large, then you’ll need to do some math.  You can figure out the expenses needed for 3 months, by taking your annual expenses, dividing by 12 and multiplying by 3, though if any big bills come due in the summer (property taxes, life insurance, etc.) those will also need to be taken into consideration.  Then you can save up until you hit that target number.  Alternatively, you can divide the total amount needed by 9 and put the same amount away every month, possibly via an auto-deposit.  #1 saves up to the Target number and then pads it with some additional emergency fund (the emergency fund part is larger when her DH is unemployed than when he is employed– likely this summer most of that money will just roll over to next year).

If you have the resources or have problems with impulse control, you can put money in CDs or Termshares that come due when you need the money in the summer.  Some credit unions also allow “Christmas clubs,” where they automatically deduct money from your account that you can’t touch until a pre-determined date, that are more general than just saving for Christmas, though they generally charge you money rather than giving you interest for the option.  Back in grad school when #1 got paid 2x/year, she put a significant portion of her first paycheck into a CD due 9 months later so that we’d have money to live on during the summer (interests rates were high and my income was low, so the $200 or so that we got in interest via doing that was highly welcome).

If you have a lot of resources, you can undrip dividends from stocks during unpaid months, though it’s not clear this would be optimal unless you have a lot of wealth but not a lot of income (maybe if you’re one of those mythical trust-fund humanities profs that people on the Chronicle forums loved to complain about).

Trick yourself

Sometimes it is just hard to save money when you have it.  When that happens, it is likely that the summer will be leaner than it should be.  There are a few ways to trick yourself into spending necessary money when you have it so you don’t have to pay it when it runs out.  For example, you can prepay required summer expenses like insurance or summer camps during the paid months.  Another thing #1 used to do when money was tighter was to put off getting reimbursements for things like daycare or credit card rewards until Summer– those little credit card rewards were really helpful when checking got low near the end.  Another trick is to put reimbursements and other “found” money in a bank account that is separate from your main one and then only tap it when you need it or make regular transfers from it in the summer.   #1 is a big fan of hiding money from herself in online savings accounts as a way to decrease unnecessary spending.

Those of you on 9 or 10 month contracts, give or take, how do you handle the unpaid months?

For our peeps in grading jail: How do you motivate/reward yourself while grading?

I’m in the middle of grading final projects and exams and completely tuckered out.  And yet, I have to keep chugging.

I tend to work best when I set myself a reward like, “after grading each problem for all exams, I can watch a 4 min youtube video or read a part of a book chapter”.   If the procrasinatory mood is right, I might be able to “reward” myself with less pleasant things like switching out the laundry or loading the dishwasher.

How do you keep yourself going when the grading gets rough?  Non-academics, how do you motivate yourself to do long repetitive boring tasks that are frequently disappointing?

Ask the grumpies: How to covertly practice for a job interview as a tenured faculty member

Susan asks:

it looks like I may interview for [a new job] soon, so here’s a somewhat urgent question: do you have suggestions for how to sharpen up my interview skills (like the chalk talk) as an already-tenured faculty? The last time I interviewed was as a postdoc, so there were plenty of coaching opportunities, but now I need to be covert. I think I’ll be ok with the talk itself, but it’s all the other soft skills

Disclaimer:  neither of us has applied for a tenured job after being tenured.  #2 has applied for non-tenure-track jobs after, but #1 has really only done one year faculty development leave stints.  However, #1 has been through the hiring process for the other side about a bazillion times both for her department and for related interdisciplinary departments that sometimes need to call in more (female or maybe just well-behaved?) economists for their searches.

Really the job talk is probably the most important thing, so if you’re ok with that, you’re ok!  Depending where you are in your career and what they have asked you to do, you’ll either want to be presenting a new piece of research or giving them an overview of a big chunk of your research agenda (as well as how it fits into your teaching and service).  If they just want a piece of research, you should easily be able to get people to listen to your practice talk just by telling them you need to practice for your upcoming talk.  If you’re doing one that has an overview of your entire agenda, you may want to stick with folks outside your department and/or close friends if you’re keeping things on the down low.

In terms of other soft skills… honestly, I don’t think you will need to practice them.  You’re an already-tenured faculty.  You don’t *need* this other new job.  You’ve most likely been on the other side of interviews and know more about what matters and what doesn’t matter for applicants.  (I am embarrassed now by what I thought mattered but nobody actually cares about!)  Just be a polite slightly more extroverted version of yourself (if you’re an introvert) and you should be fine.  Talk about research and teaching and service.  If it’s for an administrator position, talk to people at the department in advance so you have ideas for what the issues and concerns for the unit are going forward.  It’s ok not to have ideas and to just talk about how you make decisions based on faculty input, but you should be aware of any landmines as well as being able to do some discussion of the pros and cons of major issues.  If it’s for a faculty position, just pretend you’re there to give a seminar but add some more questions about things that you care about, whatever they may be.  Senior hires give so much more power to the candidate and are so much more relaxed than junior hires.

But maybe you’re wondering what kinds of questions you should be asking?  I get a lot of questions about the public and private schools (and I volunteer that information for everyone even if they don’t ask), housing, food, restaurants, distance to the nearest city.  More senior candidates feel more comfortable asking about quality of life information than do junior candidates.  I don’t know if they realize it is important or if it actually is more important or if they feel more comfortable signaling personal information.  Additionally more senior candidates are more likely to have make-or-break things– if X isn’t met, then they don’t really want the offer, and they’re happy to let us know that.  I also get more questions about how people in the department get along and how everyone gets along with the chair and the dean and so on, though sometimes that signals that the person is coming from a more dysfunctional place which can be a bit of a red flag– it’s usually best to signal that you’re happy where you are but you’re excited about this new opportunity for some other reason (like less snow or family or it’s ranked higher or you have friends on the faculty etc.), but not always.  Other than that, talking about interesting research, yours, theirs, other people’s, is always good (unless, of course, it’s a department where nobody does research).  And it’s easier to do as a senior person when you realize you don’t have to know the minutia of every person you meet’s cv than it is when you’re junior and don’t realize it’s ok to ask about things you don’t know or understand (or maybe that was just me).

#2 notes that for the two jobs she’s gotten post-tenure, the interviews were more like conversations.  She wasn’t even really aware the one for the second job was an interview.

So, we don’t really know, but we’ll throw this up to grumpy nation, and maybe send a signal over to historiann to ask for a boost.

Grumpeteers, any advice for Susan?

I got asked to do a women’s history month thing

I got an email late on a Wednesday in February asking me to let the emailer know by that Friday if I could participate in a women’s history month showcase of women’s research.  See the attached letter for more details.

I opened the attached letter.  It started,

Dear [friendly adjunct in another department, that is, NOT ME],

Then the letter itself didn’t say much.  Like… I don’t know what they want me to do.  Just that they have 24 women participating in 40 minutes and they want to spotlight “my” research and will be a huge honor for them if “I” participate.  Then it repeated itself a lot over three paragraphs without providing any actual information other than the day of the event and time.

Then I looked up previous years and it looks like maybe this part is a poster presentation (with big name speakers previous to this), and, importantly, all of the research being presented is gender research.  I do not have any current research on gender.

My guess is here that someone said no and I am definitely not their first choice.  On the one hand I should go as a public service.  On the other hand it sounds like a lot of work for no good reason.  On that first hand again, it probably wouldn’t kill me to network with other women across campus.  On the other hand, I don’t WANT to.  (Especially if having to make a poster of an already published paper is involved!  I don’t do conference posters.)

Being a woman sucks.

Suggestions for making classes more interactive

One of my introverted junior colleagues asked for suggestions on how to keep students engaged for a 3 hour block class without completely exhausting him and also to make sure they don’t skip the readings before class.  Here’s some of my suggestions.

I really like Boice’s suggestion with teaching, “get them to do the work,” and keep that in mind when I’m coming up with new class preps.

Here’s some more targeted suggestions:

– Provide them with discussion questions to go along with their readings, then hit those discussion questions in class discussion. Since everybody will have something written down, you can cold-call and/or round robin around the table to get everyone’s answers.
– Have them come up with discussion questions.  Have them post the discussion questions online prior to class for everyone to read.
– Ask them to present on specific topics. (I find presenting about the details of different public programs to be kind of boring, so I’ll let them pick off a list for one of my classes. It’s something they can present on without a huge amount of econ knowledge.)
– Have them find literature or news stories that directly relate to the topic for the week.
– Have them follow people of interest on Twitter and pick a tweet or two that deal with the topics of interest in you class. You can start class going around the table and asking them about what’s going on in current events based on their twitter feeds.
– Cancel regular class prior to a major written assignment but require them to stop by your office individually to get feedback on their papers prior to submission.
– Have them workshop each other’s papers in class. (Your campus writing center may have resources to help you do this.)
– Debate
– In-class exercises
– Guest lecture
– Ask the library for help on research
– Show videos, discuss the videos

What suggestions do you have for breaking up long classes and keeping students engaged?