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How to Manage the End of a Sabbatical

Sabbaticals, often lauded as a cure-all for burnout, are worth taking as a graduate student. Here’s how to take one, and return to your studies with renewed grace and vigor. Let’s take a closer look.

Jan 15, 2018
  • Student Tips
How to Manage the End of a Sabbatical

Bet you didn’t know that graduate school sabbaticals exist—they do. If you’re thinking about one, or in the middle of one, you should know how to prepare for a soft landing once you return.

One thing to remember? It’s not a vacation—it’s a time for you to work on projects that are important to you and the work you’re doing at your institution.

If you choose to take advantage of this opportunity, you need to think about a few things before you go, so that when you return you can pick up where you left off—renewed, refreshed, and ready to go.

Here are a few tips for managing the end of your sabbatical:

1. Prepare for the end before you go

With a little bit of planning before you leave, you can enjoy your sabbatical and return seamlessly. What do you need to do? Save money, pick a good time to go, and have at least one major goal in mind before you leave.

Saving money may be your biggest challenge. It’s typically impossible for you to teach at another institution while you’re on sabbatical. If your larger goals involve a sabbatical fellowship, see if it pays—or if you can earn a travel grant to offset some of your costs.

Fellowships like Fulbrights or Guggehneims pay while you’re on sabbatical, but the applications are due at least a year before you leave—start planning now. Get your ducks in a row and go.

When’s a good time to go? Try to give yourself at least a year to plan. Sometimes you can plan for it and sometimes you can’t, especially if you’re taking a sabbatical for family reasons. You should make sure you give yourself ample time to apply for any fellowships, to tie up loose ends, and try not to leave in the middle of a semester.

Think about what you want to do, why you want to do it, and the resources you’re going to need. Talk to your program advisor about your plans, and the financial office to get your materials in order before you go.

2. Keep your network going

It’s critical that you don’t drop off the face of the planet. Stay in contact with your advisor, committee members, and colleagues at your institution.

Make sure you have regular check-in times, either on the phone or through video conferencing so that you can keep up-to-date on the people and events in your department. If you can, an in-person visit is also a good idea—nothing beats face-to-face time with people who care about you and what you’re doing.

3. Remember that it’s a limited amount of time

A year goes by quickly. Six months goes by even more quickly. Set a few big goals for yourself and focus on those.

Maybe you want to write your book and work on an online course. Do those things. Don’t worry about the rest.

Maybe you want to take care of yourself and work on just one big project, like the book or the course. Maybe you want to travel and get your notes organized for the project you want to work on when you get back.

Get a sense of the time you have and use it—it’s not a vacation. It’s time to devote to the projects that you need and want to work on.

4. Think about the positives for your return

The year after your sabbatical will be productive—you’ll appreciate the time that you can make in that helter-skelter academic and family schedule.

Too much solitude and too little pressure can cause you to be a bit unproductive—especially towards the end of your time off.

Once you get back into the swing of things at your institution, you’ll start to create the space you need to work on new projects with renewed vigor.

Your students will also appreciate your return.

With a new structure and enthusiasm to your work, you should return from your sabbatical wishing for more time, but grateful for the time you had—and the time you have now.

Go forth and enjoy.

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