Ask the grumpies: More sabbatical/faculty development leave questions

Susan asks:

I have some related questions on sabbaticals:

— How do taxes work – did you change states and file in new state? For us, home state 3%, new state 9%, yikes.
— Did you change drivers’ license? Car registration and insurance?
— Did you need to switch health insurance? I’m on a local-base HMO plan, which won’t work in new state.
— How did you find tenants? Did you rent out your house furnished? Full year lease? Utilities? Yard work? Our home area is small college town. I have landlorded a condo before, but this part is still giving me apprehension.
— Did you fully move, or send a Pod of things, or …? Did you rent a furnished place, or spend a bunch at IKEA? How did you approach that choice?
— What was your supervising plan for the year away?
— Did you pay yourself from grants? I have opted for the half pay for a year away, and have a grant that I could use. However, we’re fortunate enough that I think we can swing this without taking extra grant money, and I … feel like the grant should go to my lab, not me. I’ll need to spend some on supplies anyway.
— How did it go departmentally being away for a year, any resentment or sidelining or other professional issues?

Whether or not you have to pay taxes in the new or old state depends on a LOT of things.  First… if you *want* to pay taxes in the new state, I’m pretty sure you can.  You will also need to change your drivers license and it helps if you change your voter registration.  If you DON’T want to pay taxes in the new state (like in your situation), there’s other things that need to be true.  First, if you or your spouse are paid by an employer from your new state then you’re most likely going to have to pay new state taxes no matter what, though not necessarily on all of your income.  If you’re getting half your income from your sabbatical employer and half from your university, you might be able to only pay new state taxes on the sabbatical employer stuff.  You will have to pay taxes on any income you earn from employers in the new state even if not from your sabbatical employer.  This is going to vary though.  It helps if you stay in the new sabbatical place for less than a full year (even a day less).  It helps if you don’t change your drivers license to the new state, and you can definitely not register to vote in the new state.  For state specific stuff, (NY and CA are especially finicky states in terms of remote workers) you may need to call the state tax/franchise board (after tax season is over) to ask them your specific questions.

Laws vary on whether or not you need to change your drivers license.  One year we did, one year we didn’t.  You definitely do not need to change your car registration.  You will likely need to change your insurance, but call your insurance company to ask.  Their rules vary.  If it’s half a year you may not, if it’s almost a full year you will almost certainly need to.

I did not need to switch health insurance (both DH and I have insurance with national coverage) but it sounds like you might need to.

To find tenants, I cannot recommend sabbaticalhomes.com more highly.  You will also want to see if your university has a housing page for new and visiting faculty and post your ad there.  We rented out our house furnished for a full year, but you can also choose not to do that.  We did not pay utilities or do yardwork, though most people include yardwork in theirs.  One of my colleagues has a husband who is a real estate agent and he takes on the manager role when we go on leave for a monthly fee.  You could also get a full-time manager who only managers rentals.

The first time we did leave, we rented a fully furnished place (from sabbaticalhomes!)  The second time we did not.  We did, however, buy a bunch of used stuff from a family who was moving out of state, like basically their entire 2 br apartment worth including a bunk bed and california king.  We also picked stuff up on curbs in our neighborhood– our second leave was in a rich place where people put nice stuff out with “free” signs and we got a surprising amount of useful stuff.  We even got a piano from a friend of DH’s who lived in a neighboring town for the cost of moving it.  Another of our friends gave us all their old no-longer-used kitchen stuff which was good enough or a year.  Most people don’t go that direction though, most people pod.  We did pod back because we liked the sectional couch and a couple of the bookshelves we picked up.

For supervising, I left a senior RA at home for the year and got her permission (and a key) to use my office as her base.  She took charge of my other RAs and I kept in touch with her daily via google hangouts and via phone as necessary.  The previous time I only had one RA but she was a recent graduate and extremely good– we kept in touch via gchat and email.  A lot of people use google docs these days.  I think it’s a good idea to have daily or weekly check-ins depending on the nature of the supervision.

First leave, I had a second employer paying half my salary as a post-doc.  Second leave I had one month of summer salary from a grant I was on (not as a PI– really more of a consulting thing), but other than honoraria, that was it.  In general my grant money priorities are usually for paying subject payments/data etc. first, then RAs, then summer salary, then course buyouts.   I have yet to have enough money to buy out a class.  :(

Being away for a year is AWESOME.  You get taken off all of your service commitments and it takes them about a year to remember you’re back and the service builds up again (this year is my “oh let’s put you back on every committee” year).  If you do it every 5-6 years or longer there’s no resentment.  If you do it every 2-3 years, that can cause grumbling, especially if you generally dodge service obligations when you’re around.  At least in my experience for my department.

Otherwise:  I find it’s hard to work long hours if all I’m doing is research.  This hurts my rhythm a bit upon re-entry because I’m not used to working the long hours I have to work when I get back, so I have a bit of a research slump upon re-entry.  I’m used to having more free-time.  I don’t know how normal this is or if it’s just me.  I also never get as much done during leave as I’d hoped/planned, partly because I say yes to everything and seem to spend every week traveling somewhere.  Traveling every week is great for getting to know people across the profession, but it also hurts with making ties at the sabbatical place.  I’m not sure what the right balance is.  But I also find that the year after leave I do not want to travel ANYWHERE.

More posts from our last leave.

Grumpeteers, What advice do you have for Susan?

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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?