Before I was a professor, I had heard of sabbaticals. That’s when a professor spends a year away from the university and visits a distant land to gain new skills, build new projects, and make new connections.
Then I became a professor and learned that (most) universities don’t pay for a full year of sabbatical, they only pay for one semester. They’ll let you take a year, but at half of the pay. So finding a half-year of salary from grants is needed for a full sabbatical.
Then I became eligible for a couple sabbaticals, and experienced how the travel-to-far-lands part isn’t necessarily what happens either.
I had a sabbatical eight years ago. I was going to move to Perth for a year with my wife and preschooler, and spend some time with amazing Australian ants and Australian people. (My wife was positioned to take a leave-of-absence or quit at the time. A complex situation, as most things are.) But instead, I ended up using the sabbatical to finish a job search and move to a new city.
I’m looking forward to another sabbatical next academic year. But I’m not going to be spending a year in a distant land. I’m taking a stay-batical, and will take periodic trips to amazing places for up to few weeks at a time. I’m definitely keeping away from my own university, as the sabbatical is intended. I’ll figure out which local academic institution wants to give me a temporary academic home.
So, sabbaticals aren’t what they used to be. This isn’t a bad thing.
I have two excellent reasons for my stay-batical choice: 1. My wife and 2. My kid.
My spouse started a new position this year, and there is no way that this could involve going away to some distant place for several continuous months. While in some ways, my kid would benefit from extended international living, for a bunch of reasons this probably wouldn’t be a good idea next year. (He’s not inexperienced with immersive international experiences, so I don’t think we’re massively depriving him.)
The stay-batical is common, and academia is evolving (though far, far too slowly) to accommodate the fact that faculty have lives and families outside their academic positions.
The popular image of a professor on sabbatical – the elbow-patched, pipe-smoking chap who trots off to a grand European center of learning – is contingent on having a portable family. Or no family, or a family temporarily that is abandoned.
A bunch of my friends have taken extensive international sabbaticals – some are on them now! They all meet one of a few conditions. They’re single, married to other academics, or are married to people who can quit their jobs or work remotely or just not work.
So my sabbatical is going to mostly be a stay-batical. This happens for many academics partnered to people with non-portable careers.
Historically, it was common for men to depart for months and years with very little consideration of their wives and families. It was also common for men to leave all parenting obligations with their wives. Going off on a sabbatical without family could happen. (A move towards gender equity in families has also caused big changes in biological field stations.)
After Darwin returned from his trip on the Beagle, he raised a family and stayed very close with his kids. If it’s good enough for Chuck, it’s good enough for me. I do, however, have the benefit of planes that can fly around the world in a day, which will be very convenient.
I have little interesting in going away for a year without my family. I’d miss my family, and a whole year of my kid’s life, and also it would be very unfair to transfer all parental obligations like that. I have little interest in asking my family to go somewhere on sabbatical. It would be putting my career above my wife’s career in a way that is unacceptable to us. Staying home for my sabbatical is a no-brainer.
I will be spending my sabbatical* picking up new skills, working on a new ambitious project, and working on a backlog of manuscripts. And working in cool exotic places with great people. And best of all, I’ll be spending most of it with my family.
*(That is, if my university awards my sabbatical. My application is currently in review.)