My sabbatical summer

I was having lunch with a close friend the other day. As we were chatting, she noted how relaxed I looked. Outwardly, I smiled and thanked her. Inwardly, I thought to myself, “It’s been a very, very long time since anyone’s said that to me!”

I’m about a month into my sabbatical, and I am re-learning what it means to relax. I’ve been so go-go-go for so very long that the relaxation stuff feels a bit unnatural, to be honest. I do have occasional moments of panic where I start thinking “shouldn’t I be FRANTICALLY WORKING ON SOMETHING?”, but those are becoming fewer and farther between. Hey, old habits die hard!

My summer schedule’s a bit disjointed this year. There are weeks where my kids are in camps/school district programs, interspersed with a week here and there where they’re home with me. Both kids are home with me on Fridays, for the most part. And for most of August, my kids are not scheduled for anything. (School for them starts the day after Labor Day.) The kiddos are both old enough to entertain themselves for a bit, so on some of the days they are home I can get a bit of work done, but I try to focus mainly on them on those days. Part of the reason we went with this schedule was so that the kids and I could have some fun together this summer, so I’m honoring that as much as I can.

I decided at the start of the summer that I’d commit to working (writing, reading, researching, etc.) for 2 hours every weekday through June and July (with some exceptions, like parts of July 4th week and the 3 days I was at Girl Scout day camp with my troop), and that anything beyond that was gravy. This would allow me to make progress on my research, while also leaving plenty of time for my other goals: de-stress, relax, slow down, and enjoy the non-work parts of my life. I’ve since expanded this commitment into parts of August, while leaving most of August free from work to allow me to unplug and recharge.

So far, this schedule has been working very well for me. I’ve been working for at least 2 hours on most weekdays, and I usually end up working more. For example, on Monday I worked on a literature review for 2 and a half hours in the morning, and then ended up going to the pool by myself in the afternoon and catching up on some research reading there. (Read an article, jump in the pool! Read another article, go down the waterslide!)

The best part is that I am super productive and focused, even with (or probably because of) the abbreviated schedule. I’m making a ton of real progress on my work. This morning, I spent an hour sketching out a potential new study. I got the idea for this study while reading a new paper yesterday, and I’m sure I was inspired because I actually have the time and mental space to think and reflect.

I also don’t feel guilty about doing things other than work, which means I can actually enjoy things like kayaking on a random Wednesday morning, or working on a craft project — both of which I did yesterday. In past summers, even when I’ve given myself permission to take days “off”, I’ve still felt guilty for not spending the time doing something more “productive”. I’m starting to realize just how harmful that mindset was for my productivity, ironically.

One thing I did not expect: I’m starting to rethink my sabbatical plans. The time I’ve had to pause and reflect on my work has made me realize that I need to rethink some things about my work: how I work, what lines of inquiry to pursue, how to involve students, what research questions are really important to me, etc. I have a longer post brewing about this point specifically. Suffice it to say that my plans are shifting, but that I’m even more excited and confident about what I might be able to accomplish this year, and that the shift will probably mean my work will be more sustainable for the long term and more personally meaningful.

Overall, this summer has been just the summer I needed: a little bit of work; a lot of relaxation, reflection, family time — and time to rediscover myself.


On the move….again

In what is becoming a yearly tradition, yesterday I moved offices. (On the hottest, most humid day of the summer too, of course.) I bid adieu to my “home building” since 2003, the good old CMC (Center for Mathematics and Computing), and moved into temporary digs in the library for my sabbatical year.

I learned some new things about my new home right away. First: apparently I’m on a “quiet floor”.



Guess I should cancel my office-warming party, then.


Second: my office door locks easily. Really easily. As in, I’d only been in my office for 5 minutes when I locked myself out. Lesson learned: always, always carry your keys with you.

Third: there is no women’s restroom on my floor. I’m going to be getting killer stair workouts in this year!

Fourth: I have two windows in my office. One is on my door and looks out onto the library stacks. The other looks into my neighbor’s office. (So yes, I’m in another “fishbowl” office.) Luckily that second window has blinds, but they are on my neighbor’s side. This should be interesting. The lack of outside window/light makes me sad, but I’m primarily working at home so I’ll suck it up.


But hey, at least I have room for a reading nook!

Fifth: I apparently don’t have many books.


All of my books fit on this small bookshelf and a small shelf above my desk.

And finally: What at first looked like an insane amount of bulky furniture actually fits pretty well in the space.

weirdly shaped oval table

This weird oval table was the hardest thing to place. I think I’ve mostly gotten it right, but it looks like it needs more stuff on it.

office view

Note the lack of standing desk. Our visitor is borrowing it this year. It will be weird to sit and work!

I do love libraries, so I’m pretty excited to have an office in the library for the year. And being outside my normal building means that I’m not likely to be drawn into any department stuff on the days I am on campus — except perhaps when I have to attend to my testbed network, which is still in the CMC.

The weird part for me, though, is knowing that I’m not ever likely to move back into the CMC. There is no office for me to return to — all of our offices are occupied, and there’s no remaining office space in the building. In 5-ish years we’ll be moving into the new science complex, where there is space for all of us. But in the interim, I’ll need to go somewhere else, and it’s not clear at this point where that “somewhere else” is. It’s definitely not an ideal situation — being outside the building means I’ll miss out on “hallway conversations” and informal mentoring opportunities with our many junior faculty, among other things. On the other hand, it will force me to try harder to be in the loop, which will get me out of my comfort zone, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have to be on campus a few days this week, so I’ll have a chance to get used to the new space. I’m looking forward to the adventure and to the possibilities.

And so begins a new chapter

Today is a day for celebration around these parts.

My three year term as chair is finally over. My sabbatical has officially begun. And last night, I handed in my materials for promotion to full professor. (If memory serves, I’ll find out whether my bid was successful next spring.)

I feel like I’ve been working so long without a break, running from one thing to the next, putting out metaphorical fires everywhere. Other than one last report I’ll need to submit in the next couple of weeks (which shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to complete), my work time for the next year and change is pretty much my own. It’s been a very, very long time since I could say that.

I have some posts brewing about a few things that I’ll try to get out over the next month. Lessons learned as chair, lessons learned from doing 3 tenure track hires in a row, and so on. I am looking forward to having time to blog again.

I am looking forward to having time to BREATHE again.

I’m also eager to start my sabbatical. I realized a couple of weeks ago that I do have something publishable, or very, very close to being publishable. I am pretty sure I can get this out by October. So that’s my near-term goal. In general, I’m just eager to spend lots of quality time thinking about, and actually working on, my research — something that’s been in very short supply lately.

But to be honest, the next week is all about celebration and relaxation. Today I’m taking the day off and spending some quality time with my son at his favorite place — the science museum. Tonight I’ll celebrate all three work milestones with my family. This weekend I’ll hopefully spend some quality time on my kayak. On the 4th, I’ll run our local 5 mile race and eat way too much (vegetarian) barbecue, as I normally do. I did not sign my kids up for any camps next week, so my kids and I will have a staycation of sorts. I plan to spend as much time with them outdoors as humanly possible to take full advantage of our gorgeous summer here.

Today begins a new chapter. I look forward to seeing what this chapter brings.