Question about Professional Goals

Since everybody loved my post about being Chair, here’s a question.

I’m due for a sabbatical soon. I could finish my 3-year term as Chair and take my sabbatical then.

However, I really want to run for second term. You can’t go on sabbatical while you are Chair. I don’t want to finish my term, hand things over to somebody else for 3 years, and then run again. The hardest part of this job is getting into the swing of things and, frankly, undoing the messes the previous Chair created. I want two consecutive terms. Or three, if I can argue exceptional circumstances.

But two consecutive terms mean losing one sabbatical out of the total number I can have in my career.

Should I sacrifice the sabbatical or the second term as Chair?

The purpose of a sabbatical is to let you dedicate all your time exclusively to research. However, there’s absolutely no chance I’ll do more research on sabbatical than I’m doing right now because it’s not humanly possible to do more. I’m a total animal on research this year. The kind of personality I have is that I work best when I have a million tasks to do, a bunch of deadlines, etc. As I said before, I thrive on interruption.

So what should I do? The reason I feel reluctant to sacrifice the sabbatical is because everybody will think I’m an idiot. What should I choose? Unconventional pleasure or social conformity?

Do you think I’m an idiot?

12 thoughts on “Question about Professional Goals

  1. I cannot give advice, but hasn’t the last year seemed like a sabbatical to you in a way? You were at home, spending time with N and Klara, not teaching a lot. May be, you feel as if after a sabbatical, so don’t feel a crucial need to take yet another right now?

    “But two consecutive terms mean losing one sabbatical out of the total number I can have in my career.”

    Cannot professors move their sabbaticals even a bit?

    A teacher in Israel can take a sabbatical every 7 years for professional development, but one doesn’t have to take it at a specific time. One can work 12 years and then take it, or not take at all.


    1. Teaching full-time while taking care of a 4-year-old full-time was nothing like a sabbatical. It was unfair and stressful. I will never stop feeling angry about this.

      Yes, it absolutely can be moved. But if you move it by 5 years, that’s equal to losing one because you get them every 5 years.


  2. What would a sabbatical give you that you can’t have by being chair?
    It sounds to me like you’re thinking of the sabbatical the way some people think of immigration – something they do out of a feeling that they’ll be missing something if they don’t.
    I don’t think colleagues (except for the most lazy and unproductive) would think you’re an idiot for giving up a sabbatical (which for most people, as you’ve mentioned, ends up being very unproductive time).
    It does make you look a bit like a workaholic but that’s not that bad a thing in the US…


  3. Based on what you’ve said there is no benefit to be had by going on sabbatical because the benefit ordinarily experienced by others is rendered moot by your personality, while there is something to be lost by going on sabbatical in the form of losing your position as chair.

    Based on that, if your goal is to maximise positive outcomes & productivity, the correct action to perform is leave sabbatical aside and persist as chair.

    That said, the fact that you’ve asked so many questions indicates some kind of insecurity or unsureness that you should probably explore with a bit of quiet contemplation, just in case there are other factors that you care about beyond FOMO that haven’t quite bubbled into your consciousness yet.


  4. I’d say do not do things if the only motivation for doing those things is that someone may think you are an idiot if you wouldn’t do them.
    Is it your department culture, or you are worried because skipping a sabbatical does not fit the scheme in your own head? I skipped one sabbatical, nobody thought I am an idiot… Times have changed, now that middle class families usually both adults have careers, one cannot just take off and go somewhere for one year as easily as in the 70ies. I understand that in your field sabbaticals are not so connected with going somewhere else, my point is that people understand that sabbatical may not fit one’s life at some particular time, for reasons that may have nothing to do with one’s job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very reassuring that you skipped one, too! I feel a lot better now. For real.

      I definitely wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere for research. Or want to.


  5. A sabbatical could be useful if you’ve hit a dead end and need a break to change direction.

    If you know what you want to do then better just to do it or you risk losing momentum.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Just George nailed it.

    Still, you don’t seem to be the type to take advice randomly. I trust that you’ll soon see the light and then you’ll decide, without turning back.

    Personally I’d go for a second term as Chair, it seems to have energized you in ways that even you did not anticipate, has led you to discover hitherto unsuspected talents in yourself and it seems to be a constant source of stimulation and satisfaction. Go for it, girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have at least two senior colleagues, quite successful and nice people to boot, who have never taken a sabbatical. The one who retired last year cited the reason “I like to be busy and I do what I want already, so I don’t see the need.”

    It doesn’t seem like you need the sabbatical and it would thwart your chairing plans, so don’t take it. You can even use it as ammunition in political scuffles later on, if you ever need to show (read: rub someone’s face in) your dedication to the job/institution. All our former chairs have had a year off after stepping down simply as a courtesy (we jokingly call it our “recovering chairs program”). I bet you can get some teaching release and some money once you’re ready to step down.

    Sabbaticals used to be the option for a (male) academic to take his portable jobless wife and kids and go live somewhere else for a year. Most people these days have “staybatticals” because spouses have jobs they can’t just up and leave, and the family is no longer under the thumb of the breadwinning academic. I personally had two sabbaticals, both yearlong. The first one I spent having a newborn; the relief from service and teaching was helpful, but I still had all the papers and grants to write and students to advise and fund, and did I mention the newborn? Oh, and I organized a major conference. The second sabbatical I spent somewhat vegging out because of major (major!) burnout and had plans to travel to Europe for two months to visit several universities, and then the pandemic hit, so that was a bust. Overall, no teaching and especially no service did help me recuperate some from the burnout. I spent much of 2020 writing and publishing fiction and even some poetry, and I admit I am now working (at my job) with renewed zeal.

    Liked by 1 person

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