Leaving space on my plate

One of the first things friends asked me when I told them I was taking a sabbatical is “what are you working on?” My project for sabbatical leave is a study of undergraduate attitudes and practices around their course reading: I’m interested in how they get access to what they need to read, their process while reading (for example, do they take notes? where do they find space and time to read?), how they prioritize the task of reading, and where they encounter frustration and success. This project builds on research that my colleague Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College and I have been doing for nearly a decade (and also work with other colleagues at CUNY and beyond), talking to CUNY students about how, where, when, and with what tools they do their academic work.

For my sabbatical project I’ve interviewed 30 undergraduates at 3 CUNY colleges: Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Brooklyn College, and my own campus of City Tech. Like my previous projects this involves many steps: getting approval from the university’s Institutional Review Board; recruiting students by hanging flyers around each campus; scheduling (and rescheduling) interviews with students; gratefully relying on the assistance of my colleagues at each campus to find a suitable spot for interviews; purchasing student incentives (in this case either a $10 public transit card or $10 online giftcard); holding student interviews; transcribing the audio recorded during student interviews; coding transcript data using qualitative analysis software (in this case, Dedoose); and analyzing the coded data to elucidate themes (which I’ll then write up).

My university’s sabbatical approval process requires applicants to submit a timeline for the work they expect to do, and when I was putting the timeline together I remember thinking that there was more than enough time for all of the parts of this project over a 6 month sabbatical (maybe even too much time?). But that hasn’t turned out to be the case at all. While I’m on pace to finish what I need to with this project before my sabbatical ends, I haven’t had any trouble filling the time that I’m not working on this project.

In many ways this is the result of timing. The sabbatical application deadline at my college is always in the fall, even if you’re only intending to take a 6 month sabbatical over a spring semester like I did. Which means that I prepared my sabbatical application in November 2015 though my sabbatical didn’t begin until February 2017. That’s a long time span, and perhaps unsurprisingly I’ve picked up additional projects since I submitted my application. Mariana and I are now working on an edited book about research on and services/resources for commuter students in academic libraries, so we’ve been working on our own chapters in the book as well as wrangling our contributors’ chapters. There are some longstanding file and data management tasks I’ve been taking care of, too, and scattered other commitments: an article with collaborators, a panel presentation at ACRL, teaching a workshop and delivering a talk at a couple of CUNY venues.

All of which is to say that I’ve no shortage of research-related work to do during this sabbatical, despite my initial suspicions to the contrary. And I’m very glad that I didn’t load up my sabbatical plate too heavily from the outset, so I have the time and space for these additional projects that have popped up since then (including blogging here!).

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