I applied to go on sabbatical for next school year (2023-2024), and let me tell you that it has been a PROCESS.
1. Decide to go on sabbatical.
Okay, so first I had to decide that I actually wanted to go on sabbatical. At my school, faculty are eligible to apply in their sixth year to take a sabbatical in their seventh year and then apply every sixth for the seventh year that follows as long as they’re employed at the institution. Last year, I knew my time was coming because my colleague put in her application to go on sabbatical, so I decided to take it seriously and go to the information session. At the session, another of my colleagues from the English Division was part of the panel, and he said that he took his sabbatical faithfully every time. He basically did everything except flash a big neon sign that said TAKE THE SABBATICAL.
Then, I talked to another friend/colleague of mine who said that one of her mentors told her “Take the sabbatical. Always take the sabbatical.”
It also helped that, you know, the past few years have been so soul destroying that all I want to do is get away from my institution.
2. Figure out the money.
However, there is one caveat to taking a sabbatical: faculty are paid 75% of their salary while on sabbatical. At first I was aghast at this, but then I learned that some schools only pay at 50% and others only offer unpaid sabbatical leave. So, after learning that, 75% didn’t sound so bad.
The school gives faculty the option to bank our pay, which means that we can teach overload (extra classes), and then they hold onto it until sabbatical time when they pay it out with your salary during the sabbatical year. The other option–and the one that I’m taking–is to teach overload and then put the money in a savings account. Banking sounds like a good idea and it might be a better one but it also sounds like working for free, and I do not trust institutions that much, sorry.
(I should note that plenty of people bank their pay with no issues, but…yeah.)
I was resistant to teaching overload also because working a lot to take time off seemed to defeat the purpose, but I was able to pick up a class for spring that I have programmed pretty well and will require less labor than a composition class, so I feel pretty good about it. I was also resistant because when I was at my previous institution where I taught five comp classes a semester, I picked up an extra class once and could not tell you up from down or left from right. My daughter very nicely said, “Yeah, never do that again,” because I was a hot mess from the beginning until the end.
But, you know, I also really, really don’t want to teach during the summer if I can help it, so during the spring, I shall work.
That one class won’t cover all of my loss of income, but I also applied for some residencies/fellowships that have stipends, so fingers crossed that I get accepted.
Oh and fun fact I learned at a later info session: You have to teach at the school an additional two years after your sabbatical. If you leave before then, you have to pay back the 75% the school paid you. So congrats to my school and my colleagues, but they’ll be stuck with me for another three years, minimum.
3. Figure out a project.
The other thing about taking a sabbatical is that faculty have to have a project to complete, or, you know, a reason for taking sabbatical. The reason has to enhance your teaching and your service to the college, which sounds simple enough until you have to write the proposal (more on that later). There are three kinds of sabbatical you can take: research, education, or travel.
I’ve had a project idea for a while, which is just to say that I’ve had something I’ve been wanting to do but can never find time for because I’m always working. So my project idea is to restructure/rewrite my classes so they focus on digital media and media literacy. This falls pretty neatly into the research category even though there are some hoops to jump through for the sabbatical application that annoy me and every other person who has to complete it (more on that later, also).
So I was feeling pretty good about my proposal topic. And then I started applying to residencies. And for those residencies I had a different proposal related to creative writing. And that meant I went from a research proposal to a travel proposal.
4. Write the proposal.
I started writing my proposal but now I had a conundrum. Do I write a research proposal or a travel one? And what happens if I don’t get accepted to any of the residencies? I still want to take the sabbatical. (“Always take the sabbatical.”) And does that mean I write two proposals just in case?
Turns out the answer was yes. Write two proposals. One for if you get accepted to the residencies you want (travel) and one for if you don’t (research).
5. Almost have a breakdown.
Two weeks before my sabbatical application was due, I had what can only be described as an anxiety attack. I have therapy on Wednesdays, so on the Tuesday night before my session, I started FREAKING OUT. I could not get to sleep. I could not figure out why I couldn’t get to sleep. I journaled and realized it was because of the application. I tried to go back to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep. I journaled some more. I still couldn’t sleep. I figured out that I wanted to write the perfect application but didn’t know how to write the perfect application because I had never done one before. And also what if I promised something I couldn’t deliver? And what if I did get accepted to one of the residencies but not any of the others? How did I write that application? Did I need THREE applications? Etc. Finally, I forced myself to lie down and keep my eyes closed and not get out of bed no matter what and, if nothing else, at least I would have rested my eyes.
When my alarm went off the next morning and I “woke up” (I’m still not sure I ever went to sleep), I seriously considered calling out of work for a mental health day. Except I didn’t really want to because of whatever part of their papers my students were working on. So then I decided to wait until after therapy to make that call.
During therapy, after I recounted the shenanigans of the night before, she basically said, “It makes sense that you would freak out because this is the first major writing project that you are attempting since leaving graduate school without finishing your dissertation.” There was more to it then that, obviously, but this post is already long enough and also…therapy.
Anyway, talking it out with her helped because I was able to finish the first draft of one of the proposals.
6. Connect with others.
One of the hoops we have to jump through for a research sabbatical is to provide evidence that what we’re researching will be overseen by someone else at another institution who is an expert in the field and is equivalent to taking a grad level class at said school, which meant I had to call in a professional favor and ask a friend to write me such a letter. This turned out to be a good thing because said friend suggested we meet up over Zoom and catch up and that’s when I realized I hadn’t seen her or spoken to her in YEARS outside of Facebook because she moved away, then I moved away, and then life happened and I was just absolutely flabbergasted that it had been that long. But yes, it had. So anyway, we had a lovely meeting, she agreed to support my project, and now I’ll be seeing her on Zoom again in the spring. So that was very yay.
And then I had to ask ANOTHER friend for a letter of support and that got done, and I am glad I know so many experts in their fields.
Somewhere in there, the aforementioned colleague/friend who told me to take the sabbatical decided to take her own advice and apply for sabbatical as well, so we arranged a zoom session to finish up our proposals. We also looked over each other’s proposals and gave each other feedback and everything is better with friends, honestly. It also helped a lot that she has been on the sabbatical committee for years because she was able to tell me what stuff to make sure I emphasized or included in my application.
I’m also glad that we worked together because I had misread a couple of the requirements on the proposal and was actually making it harder for myself than it had to be. So, basically, I was doing what a lot of my students do, which is read the directions through a haze of stress and then read something that’s not there. In my case, I was eliminating that which makes it easy.
7. Submit the application.
And then, finally, I was done. Or I told myself I was done. I had been staring at it and reworking it for what felt like forever, and I honestly had to stop because the whole thing stopped making sense to me. That was on the day I had set as my deadline (the day before the application was due, in case of tech or other issues). So I just told myself to submit and be done because there was literally nothing else to do to it, and I knew if I didn’t submit it, I would just stare at it some more.
So, last week I officially submitted my application. And now I get to…
8. Wait to see if the sabbatical has been approved.
We have to be notified by March 15. Hopefully, I’ll know before then.
9. Prepare for sabbatical.
While I’m waiting, I have been advised to work on a budget for next year so I’m ready for the reduced pay. I am also building a reading list for myself.
Oh, and I signed up to take a class in creative writing since both of my proposals include drafting a short story collection and I haven’t written a viable short story since I was in graduate school for my master’s, which was somehow sixteen years ago. Sixteen. That is a very long time. So anyway, as I was working on the application, I discovered the sixteen years ago thing and then I remembered that I wrote those because I had deadlines and outside accountability so it’s time for a class.
I also had to remind myself that I have done some creative writing since then–just in the form of scripts, not short stories.
I will also continue to find and apply for fellowships to try to cover the lost income. This also means I have to be more thoughtful and frugal now so I’m ready for next fall. Sigh.
10. Do something nice for yourself.
Writing the sabbatical application was a lot. I worked on it for over a month, and it was stressful and will continue to be semi-stressful until I know for sure if it gets approved or not. So, now that the application is in, I have been trying to think of a treat for myself to celebrate. It has been cold here lately, so I’ve been thinking about scarves, which means I may spring for one of these. We shall see.
Has anyone else gone through this process? Anything you would add?