Sabbatical: I think I’m doing it wrong?

I’ve been on sabbatical for the Spring 2018 semester, which is drawing to a close with 2 more days of classes. I still have summer, but I’m feeling this immense sense of panic that is somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, I look at my list of research things and I feel like I’ve hardly made a dent. On the other hand, I don’t feel like I took enough time to relax and reset. When I’ve talked to colleagues about sabbatical, I hear both “oh, I got so much research/writing done!” and “oh, I relaxed on the beach and traveled and I feel like a whole new person!” This is why every time someone asks me how sabbatical is going, I respond “I think I’m doing it wrong…”


image source:

I set out to do four researchy things on sabbatical, as outlined in my sabbatical application:

  1. Go to the National Museum of Natural History and photograph a bunch of fossil teeth to measure when I’m not on sabbatical.
  2. Analyze the backlog of jumping salamander videos for power analysis, which means frame-by-frame of over 300 videos. And related to same project: learn how to make histological sections of salamander torsos.
  3.  Attend the American Alliance of Museums annual conference, as I’m working on determining if we can open a museum of natural history and culture in Meadville.
  4.  Do a feasability analysis of said museum.

I’ve gotten #1 done, and #3 is in early May. I’ve met with folks re: #4 and discovered I need to take about 3 steps backwards first. I’m currently woking on #2 and have done 41 videos this week. I have 7 days left on my free trial of the video analysis software, and I don’t work on weekends…I don’t think I’m going to make it through all of the videos. The histology is harder than I had hoped…but I finally have tissues not falling out of section and making it onto slides!

But then again….I did a lot that isn’t on the list. Since the application for sabbatical was due almost 1.5 years before this semester, some things came up after that.

  1. I’ve been associate editor of a journal for less than a year, so I had those responsibilities.
  2. I wrote an application for an internal grant (and got it!) to start revamping our intro bio course.
  3. I participated in a reading group to help lead to that grant.
  4. I kept working on cataloging the paleontology collection.
  5. I gave a talk at McDaniel College while I was in DC.
  6. I kept running my programs that related to my educational scholarship/research: 4th Graders as Scientists, Educators in the Workplace, the Allegheny College – Crawford Central School District STEM Partnership. These are all HUGE time commitments, in terms of organization and getting them up and running each year. I found myself asking “how the hell do I do this when I’m teaching 3 classes?!”
  7. I ran a fossil day camp for our local Girl Scout troops:


  8. I submitted a research grant to a foundation, which will allow me to pick up my shark tooth biomechanics research again.
  9. Colleageus and I submitted a symposium proposal to ICVM, and will submit a workshop proposal to SICB next week.
  10. I got two new projects planned out for this summer and next year.
  11. Pulled into several convos about department stuff, as we have several retirements happening this year.
  12. I’m still working with JMIH and AES on code of conduct stuff.

On the relaxation front:

  1. I finally completed a set of mittens for myself (for once). I’ve had the yarn for 3 years:      mittens
  2. I completed a shawl for myself (again!) with yarn I’ve had for about 12 years.
  3. I’m taking voice lessons! I’ve always wanted to!
  4. I have read 13 non-work books (actually fewer than I had hoped at this point).
  5. I’m all caught up on Marvel movies, just in time to see Infinity War this afternoon.
  6. I spent 2 weeks taking care of my mom after her knee replacement (ok, not relaxing at all, but it was 2 weeks I spent out of the office).

And yet, I look back on this list…and see I’ve got a crap-ton of work done, and seem to be missing the relaxation piece, porportionally speaking. This is probably why I am staring at the list of over 200 videos I still have to analyze, and am just thinking about saying “f-this” despite my software trial time running down, and going home to work on my crafty stuff for my side-gig, which kicks into high gear in May:


To be potted…

And then there’s this contribution to not feeling relaxed enough:


The back of my car, February 2018

I didn’t go anywhere, other than my DC trip (6 days) and back to Chicago to take care of my mom (2 weeks). It’s a stay-battical. My partner has a non-academic job. He can’t just take a semester off. We had no interest in making either of us single parent for more than 2 weeks.  My daughter still has to be at the bus stop at 7:25am. My partner still has to commute 25 minutes to his job, and leaves at the same time. My son still goes to preschool. So, normal life goes on. So, you’re seeing mom life in that photo: 2 car seats, Girl Scout cookies that needed to be sorted into individual orders, PVC to build the cookie booth, fabric & paint for the banner for said cookie booth, bird seed for our bird feeders, hockey sticks for both kids, 4 bottles of wine, and a small bag of things I forgot to pick up while grocery shopping a few days earlier.

No wonder I don’t feel like I’m doing sabbatical “right”! I’m comparing myself to colleagues that jet off to France or Australia for a year with or without families, or who aren’t running three programs because there’s nobody to hand them off to, or who can sleep in or take off on a random weekend to go to the Outer Banks.

But I am getting to spend more time with my kiddos and family – days where the kids and partner had off from school/work and I usually don’t. I feel like we can take more down time on the weekends to fun things or make complicated meals (I finally made tamales from scratch!), since I can put off errands to happen during the week when they’re at school/work. I am glad that I got to help out my mom and sisters by hanging with my mom after her surgery – something that would be impossible if I wasn’t on sabbatical. I got to take a detour to UIUC, my alma mater, from Chicago to see my former undergrad research advisor…he’s been retired for over 10 years and had just finished his “omega” monograph. I don’t know that I’ll get to see him again.  I got to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture while in DC, which was moving and amazing.  Travel to far away places can wait until the next sabbatical, when the kids are older. Sleeping in can wait – that’s what coffee is for.

When I stop to write all this down, and take stock of the last several months, I think I did sabbatical just right.


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