After a really busy semester of teaching, this semester I have (almost) no teaching or service responsibilities. A whole semester to focus on research! I am excited about this, but also feel a lot of pressure to use the time well. Add to that that I lost most research momentum when teaching took over my life, and that last semester left me feeling a bit burnt out, and I’ve been feeling a little at a loss about how to plan for this semester.
I realized that I haven’t read very much about sabbaticals*, nor have I received much direct advice. I asked on twitter, and was pointed to this post, which is great (ht: @luehea). Much of it resonates with me – I am going into this leave with high expectations of myself (are they unreasonably high? I’m not sure), a feeling of needing to go-go-go based on having gone all out last semester, and a realization that I need to temper expectations a bit and spend more time trying to “be quiet”.
The only specific advice I’ve been given is to say “no” to all service and teaching-related tasks (I haven’t quite done that, but have come pretty close) and to work from home as much as possible. I will be staying in Ann Arbor during my leave (in part because my husband is not on leave this semester), and I’ve been told that the more I’m on campus, the more I’ll end up doing service or other tasks that I should be avoiding during this leave. But I still want to meet with my lab group regularly, and we have a faculty search going on and want to be involved in that to some extent. So, for now, my plan is to go to my regular office two days a week. On those days, I will meet with lab folks, have lab meeting, meet with other departmental colleagues, and probably do some work in the lab.
What are my other plans for the semester?
1. Make more connections with the med school. I think EEB types have a lot to contribute to work on the human microbiome and the evolution of antibiotic resistance, and I’m really interested in both of those topics. Luckily for me, there are some great people over at the UMich med school working on those topics. But, even though the med school is an easy walk from my office, it’s far enough that I almost never make it over there. And it’s hard to prioritize a totally new research area that may or may not work out when there are so many other things to work on. But this seems like exactly the sort of thing I should devote time to during a research leave. So, this semester, I’m hoping to make it over to the med school regularly – starting with a meeting with a colleague this week that I’m really excited about. I don’t know what to expect from this part of my plans for the semester – ideally, I’ll finish the semester with some solid momentum on some projects with med school colleagues.
2. Read a paper a (work?) day: after seeing a tweet from Jacquelyn Gill saying that one of her goals for 2015 was to read a paper a day, she and I decided to start a hashtag related to that. There are actually a few hashtags floating around for it, including #365papers and #260papers (the latter being the approximate number of work days in the year). I don’t think I’ll actually read a paper every single day, but I hope to read more than one paper some days. Initially, I thought I’d aim for 365, but now I think 260 might be a more reasonable goal, given travel, weekends, illnesses, etc. I plan on counting book chapters, manuscripts I’m reviewing, and teaching-related papers in my count.
3. Carry out some manuscript and data necromancy: I have some projects that have languished because of a lack of time to finish them up and get them out the door. I hope to get at least two of these resurrected this semester. I also hope to make substantial progress on a couple of manuscripts that I want to write on new data. Hopefully reading a paper a day will help with the writing tasks, as suggested by this tweet (which seemed very well timed, as we’d just created #365papers):
4. Have a quick turnaround time on manuscript drafts from lab folks. We have some exciting data to write up, and I’m glad that I won’t be the rate-limiting step on getting them submitted!
5. Spend some time working in the lab, especially on some new projects we’re just starting.
6. Update my teaching materials for Intro Bio. While this might sound like a crazy thing to do while on research leave, I think it will be much more efficient to go through and make one round of edits on the pre-readings I wrote and lecture slides now, while everything is fresh. I will need to do another round of edits over the summer (to add in examples that I just found and to update based on ideas I get from my colleague who is teaching the class this semester), but I think this will be the most efficient way to tackle updating the material. This is the sort of thing that I get obsessive about, though, and I want to make sure I don’t spend a ton of time on this. So, I’m telling myself that I can work on one lecture per day, three days per week.
7. Read Make It Stick. This was recommended by Robin Wright when she visited Michigan this past fall, and I think it will be really interesting. But, again, I want to not devote too much time to teaching while I’m on research leave. So, I think I will say I can read one chapter a day, three days a week for this, too.
8. Be more mindful about when I check my email. I find that I check it reflexively and want to stop doing that. I haven’t decided how I will go about this, though. (Suggestions welcome!) And, really, I’d like to be more mindful about everything I do.
9. Write (at least) one blog post a week. This is the third one I’m writing in the past week, so I’m off to a good start on this goal!
10. Run mid-day. My favorite time of day to run is late morning. I like to do work for a bit, then run as a late morning break. When I do this, I often solve research-related problems (e.g., figure out a way to design an experiment, think of a new way to do an analysis). The problem with doing this on days when I’m in my office is that I don’t have a way to shower afterwards. So, usually I run at 6AM. But, this semester I should be able to run late morning on the days when I work from home. I’m looking forward to this! I sometimes think that if I just spent the day repeating work-run-shower, I’d be much more creative and productive. An added bonus is that a late morning it should make running warmer and safer in the Ann Arbor winter than a 6AM run!
11. Hire a postdoc.
If anyone has tips on how to have a productive research leave – or links to blog posts or other resources – please let me know in the comments!
*Officially, my research leave is not a sabbatical, but a “nurturance leave”. This is normally taken by faculty in my college while they are pre-tenure, but, since I came up for tenure after only being here a year, mine is coming post-tenure. I am treating it like a one-semester sabbatical.