Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sabbatical Spouses

My experience with sabbaticals and spouses involves planning with a professor-spouse, so I don't have any personal advice for those with non-professor-spouses. I do know that my colleagues with non-professor-spouses have done one or more of the following: (1) not gone on sabbatical at all; (2) taken a sabbatical, but of the "staycation"/don't-leave-home sort; or (3) taken a sabbatical consisting of short trips or somewhat extended stays at other institutions, but not for a long time (max 3 months, typically less). One friend took the kids to Europe for a few months and left the lawyer spouse at home (though he visited).

Some of my colleagues with professor spouses in different fields or institutions have taken separate sabbaticals at different times or in different places, but few people I know have chosen to do this.

For 2-professor families who want to coordinate a sabbatical, there are some Issues that typically arise, such as:

- You have to coordinate things so that you both apply for, and are granted, sabbaticals at the same time.
- You both have to write grant proposals to raise $ for the missing 1/2 salaries you both won't be receiving.
- You have to agree on a place to go.

Each of these is a potential pitfall. For example, I had to wait more than 10 years for my first sabbatical because my husband was a few years behind me in seniority, and then we had to get our department chair to agree that we could both have a sabbatical in the same year.

The third item in the list, however, consumes most of our sabbatical discussions.

Agreeing on a place to go involves many complex factors. Although my husband and I are in the same general field, we are in different subfields, and different institutions may or may not have interesting (or any) colleagues in one of our subfields. So first we have to figure out all possible places that could conceivably host both of us, given our research interests.

Then we discuss which of those places we actually want to go. Although by this point the list of possible places has been significantly reduced, especially if we add the further constraint that we prefer to spend our sabbaticals outside the US, one or both of us may have different preferences and priorities.

For our last sabbatical, there was a very obvious place that had outstanding colleagues and facilities, was in an interesting place, and that had colleagues who wanted to host us. Also, the institution had money to pay visiting scholars, and that was quite a nice bonus to an already appealing option. So we went there.

That was great, but what about the next sabbatical? We have been discussing this and have pretty much settled on a place we think we would both like to be, and we have ascertained that there are colleagues there who would like to have us around for all or part of a year.

How did we ascertain that? For our last sabbatical, we both knew people at this institution, and it was not at all awkward to discuss our hopes for a visit. In fact, I think one or both of us may even have been invited. For the next sabbatical, one of us was approached by a professor at the university about visiting, and the other started e-mailing colleagues (some current collaborators, others known only from their research) to see what they thought of the idea. They liked the idea.

Although it is a bit disconcerting to cold-email someone and ask "Would you host me for my next sabbatical?", there's nothing too scary about asking someone if you can have a desk and be an interactive member of their research group for a while. Also, making these requests gets easier as you get older and more egotistical, and you count on the fact that people will either be enthusiastic or will at least make up something reasonably nice to discourage you if they don't want to be your host.

Of course our daughter has been an important element in our sabbatical planning as well. She loved the sabbatical we took when she was in elementary school. It was an adventure, she learned a new language, and we did a lot of traveling. She missed her friends and cats, but she made new friends and we figured out where all the cats in the neighborhood lived, and went on frequent cat safaris to visit friendly felines. Not long ago we returned to our sabbatical city and followed our old cat safari route, and there was our favorite cat, sitting in her usual spot, as if she hadn't moved in years.

Now our daughter is looking forward to our next sabbatical in a different place, despite the disruptions it will cause to her schooling. Whether such disruptions are significant (so the sabbatical is not a realistic option) or not a big deal (so the sabbatical is worth it for all) will of course vary from family to family.

I am a big fan of sabbaticals for their recharging effects and for the opportunities they provide to meet and work with new people, live in a different culture, travel, think, and have fun. Even if I couldn't get enough grant money to replace my missing 1/2 salary, I would try to go anyway.


Anonymous said...

I'm half of a professorial couple and we're currently arranging our first sabbatical.
For me the main problem is dealing with the children (the eldest, a tween, is extremely angry at the whole scheme) and organizing my absence workwise, as I will not be able to leave behind all the admin work, and my grad students are used to rather frequent if occasionally uninspired supervision.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome post, FSP. Very helpful.

Anonymous said...

With all we tend to hear in the blogosphere about the challenges of the two-body-problem for academic spouses, it is nice to stop and consider one of the ultimate perks of both being in this job, if you can make it work out.

Anonymous said...

My department offers a pre-tenure sabbatical and my spouse's does not. So he asked for and got family leave for the year and a year added to his tenure clock so he could follow me to the place paying the other half of my salary. We saved up his entire salary the year before which helped us immensely the next year when he was salary-less and our cost of living was higher.

Anonymous said...

Sabbaticals are also complicated from a financial perspective - so how does one deal with maintaining two residences, one in home town (with mortgage) and one in sabbatical town (possibly different country)?


Kris said...

I had the opportunity recently to take up a totally awesome sabbatical opportunity. I'd hoped that my partner's schedule would match (he was due to be just completing his PhD), but due to technical issues, he was unable to follow me out for a postdoc - plus at a year and a half into his PhD he hadn't wanted even to be thinking about postdoc locations (the process took 1.5 years to organise from application). All I can say is that Skype was a godsend (and the sabbatical was otherwise awesome - brilliant host, brilliant group, wish I could have stayed). Just as well we don't have kids yet though ...

Anonymous said...

I've been university faculty for over 28 years now, and I think I've had the equivalent of 1 year of sabbatical in 3 1-quarter segments. I'm feeling overdue for a sabbatical next year.

The university I work for is more flexible than most in sabbaticals, in that one can trade in "sabbatical leave credits" for differing salaries. Each quarter one works, one earns a sabbatical leave credit. To get full salary on leave, one has to trade in credits at a 9:1 ratio, but it is also possible to trade in at lower ratios (6:1 for 2/3 salary for example).

For my previous sabbaticals, one was a stay-home one, which did not work out well, as I ended up getting sucked into lots of time-consuming stuff that missed the point of a sabbatical. I could have bought out of my teaching load much more cheaply, or rescheduled classes to have a quarter off from teaching, if that was all the effect of the sabbatical.

My other two sabbaticals I moved with my family to Seattle. Once we rented a house from a faculty couple on sabbatical from UW, the other time a basement apartment. It was a little hassle transferring my son to a different school (and you can't get into a gifted program for part of the year), and we had to pay for private school tuition the second time, because none of the public school openings were a good match.

It is common to rent out one's own house while on sabbatical, and we did that once (to a couple from Trømso, where they get more sabbatical than most universities). The other time we just had a grad student housesit for us in return for taking care of our cats. Paying rent plus mortgage was not a big deal—we're very frugal people, so our expenditures even with double housing costs were still less than many of our colleagues at the same pay scale.

My wife was not employed when I last took a sabbatical, so we could move with fairly little hassle, but she now has a job that she enjoys as a school librarian, and if we went away during the school year she would probably lose the job permanently, with no hope of getting a comparable job in the next 10 years. This means that whatever sabbatical I take next year, it is unlikely that she would travel with me, so I either stay home or travel without her. Whether my son would stay home with her or travel with me depends a lot on what schooling options are available (he'll be a sophomore in high school next year).

Anonymous said...

If your sabbatical is less than a full year then your expenses for the new place are tax deductible.

sabbatical homes is a great webpage for renting out your house and finding a new temporary place. (We did both.) We also hired a house manager to take care of our mortgage house while we were across the country in a rental.

Anonymous said...

If your spouse has a day job and is not a professor, then you just go off and try to have fun, while being eaten by guilt and come back to the resentful spouse. These sabbaticals are probably academically recharging and but not emotionally.

GMP said...

I am going on my first sabbatical next year but will be on "staycation". My husband works for the university but not as an academic. He could come with me and keep his job when he returns, but simply doesn't want to (he says he'd have nothing to do/would be bored if we went elsewhere). One of my children is in elementary school, another in preschool, so that also makes moving for a year more difficult. Therefore, while I could theoretically take the sabbatical with the whole family, it probably won't happen... Oh well. I am still looking forward to a break from teaching and more time for grant writing and travel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these posts, FSP! I am still pre-tenure but have begun thinking about pre-sabbatical planning. I would really like to get a good sabbatical experience in a far-away place while the kids are still young (with the aim of avoiding the hassles of moving tweens and teens described by others here). I wonder if anyone has an opinion about whether it's best to visit another country for a "first" sabbatical, or if it is wiser to stick within the US for the first go-round and plan far-flung adventures once I have a bit more experience?

Anonymous said...


When my dad took his second sabbatical I was 14 and I was incredibly angry at the utter gall he had, taking me away from my friends!! LOL To make matters worse, we were going to Germany, when I'd only had two years of French. He refused to accommodate my request to go to a country where I spoke the language! I told him I didn't care if he wanted to work for Famous Professor; he couldn't be *that* famous, because I'd never heard of him!

(I'm surprised my parents survived raising me to adulthood--as you can tell, I was a brat.)

The short version of the rest of the story is that I got dragged to Germany, was stuck unwillingly into a German gymnasium, learned to speak German fluently, made some awesome friends...and didn't want to go home at the end of the year. :D So take the angry tween and who knows, it may just work out.

My one regret about my late foray into academia--which I just realized last year--is that I will never be able to take my boys on sabbatical with me. Even if I escape my Ph.D. program in 4 years and only postdoc for 2 before landing a TT position, my youngest son will be 21 before I'm eligible for sabbatical. :-( Maybe I will try to get an overseas postdoc instead.

Janice said...

I'm coming up for a sabbatical starting this fall. Between my spouse's employment and my children's education (especially autistic youngest), I can't pick up and move for the long term. But a few, carefully timed archival trips and digitization have given me access to most everything I'll need to work here.

The trick is NOT to be too visible on and around campus or you get sucked into administrivia and other issues that your non-sabbaticant colleagues can manage just fine.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that cats were not listed as a consideration in sabbatical planning. During my first sabbatical, in addition to the spouse with a job and two preschoolers, I also had a geriatric cats in poor health. My longest trip that year was a 2-month stint in Japan, and many of my phone calls home to my spouse included discussion of the cat's medical condition. Even with healthy pets though, I'd have a *really* hard time leaving them for a whole year.

I know you have some cats with distinguished credentials, FSP, and I wonder if you would be willing/able to share *their* thoughts on the sabbatical concept (and I am wondering about what they think of *you* taking a sabbatical; as far as I can tell, cats themselves spend much of their lives on sabbatical).

Anonymous said...

My husband is not an academic but he is self employed and his business can be conducted anywhere, and if not he can choose to wind it down for a year and we'll just live on my salary and savings. And we have no kids. We can go anywhere I want to go for however long I want, I do not have to consider anything or anyone besides my own research interests. (as long as it is overseas my husband is fine with wherever I want to go, he's easy to please).

positive affirmation said...

My adviser when I was high school was a female professor., you know female prof is so nice to handle a class it's so intellectual..,