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A draft of my 2019-2020 sabbatical proposal

Topics/tags: Overcommitment, academia, things I had to write, long

As I get ready for intense work on the design of my digital humanities course, I’m trying to clear some paperwork off of my to-do list. One particularly important piece of paperwork is my sabbatical request. Sabbaticals are one of the benefits of working in academia; every seven or so years you get a semester or a year in which you can focus on a scholarly problem or problems and (mostly) avoid teaching and administrative responsibilities. It’s something I wish everyone could have.

Of course, sabbaticals are not automatic. Every institution I’ve heard of requires an application for a sabbatical. At some institutions, the applications are competitive; only a certain number are funded each year. Grinnell places no limits on the number of sabbaticals available each year [1]. However, Grinnell does require an application to ensure that faculty members have adequately planned for the time away.

I am eligible for leave in 2019-20. I need to write a proposal. Now seems to be the right time. I’d rather do it early than worry about it at the last moment [2]. So, let’s get started.

When is it due? Let me check the list of faculty dates to remember [3]. Hmmm … it’s not due until November 9. I could put it off. But I shouldn’t. So let me check the guidelines [4].

There are two sabbatical models. The New Model is for folks who do not have accrued MAP credits or elected to receive only cash compensation for their MAP credits. The Old Model is for those who still want to use their MAP credits. I fall into the second group [5]. That group’s guidelines are as follows.

Faculty should submit a current CV along with a two-page letter addressed to the Dean of the College. In such letter, the faculty member should include the following information:

  1. indicate which semester the leave is preferred; or indicate whether MAP credits will be used to extend the sabbatical to a full year;
  1. explain the nature of the work to be undertaken during the leave;
  1. specify the location of residence during the proposed leave;
  1. state the scholarly product(s) and/or enhancements to teaching that are expected to result from the proposed leave.
  1. Include a statement on the accommodation plan for advisees during the leave period, as discussed and approved by the Department or Program chair.

How does the old model differ from the new model? The new model does not require a computation with MAP credits. However, the new model does require a two-part statement from the Department Chair in which they address the ways in which the faculty member contributes to student research as appropriate to the discipline […] [and] how advisees will be accommodated. I’m not sure why we’ve moved that second responsibility from the faculty member to the chair, but I’m guessing that there were some instances in which the arrangements were not clear.

On a separate note, I’m glad to see that Grinnell faculty are still permitted to use their sabbatical time to focus on developing course materials [6]; I was a bit worried that we might be changing our focus with the change in sabbatical policies.

Now that I have the guidelines, it’s time to write [7] the application.

Indicate which semester the leave is preferred; or indicate whether MAP credits will be used to extend the sabbatical to a full year.

My case is complicated. I’m using sabbatical plus accumulated course releases plus MAP credits. How complicated? Let’s see if I can get everything down clearly.. [8]

I request a full-year sabbatical for the 2019-2020 academic year under the Old Sabbatical Model as detailed in the Sabbatical Leave Guidelines of August 2018. I will be using course and MAP credits to convert the three-course, semester-long leave to a full-year leave. I have 1.5 course credits from an overload in Fall 2017; Dean Latham asked that I use those by the end of 2019-2020. I will also use 0.427 fractional MAP course credit I have accumulated, giving a total of 4.927 course credits for the full year. I realize this choice means that my salary for 2019-2020 will be prorated to 98.54% of my base salary. I plan to use my remaining MAP credits for course reductions or time off sometime in the four years following my sabbatical.

Hmmm … I’m cutting my salary by 1.5%. I’ll need to talk to Michelle about that decision.

Explain the nature of the work to be undertaken during the leave.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. I’m planning four projects: I should put the new CSC 151 materials in a generally-usable form. I should wrap-up the code-camp work, whatever that means. I should rework the mediascheme materials to work only in DrRacket. And I should reboot the MIST project. But how do I discuss and describe those? I also may be working on the SIGCSE volunteer system, but that’s probably not worth mentioning in the application.

I plan to work on four projects during my sabbatical leave.

Introductory CS through a digital humanities lens. During the fall 2018 semester, I am developing a new Digital Humanities approach for CSC 151, Functional Problem Solving, the introductory course in Grinnell’s CS curriculum. The development of this version of the course is part of a broader goal of the department to offer a variety of approaches in CSC 151, similar to the options in BIO 150 or ENG 120, so that students can choose a version allied to their interests. There appears to be some good evidence that these themed introductory CS courses also support diversity in the discipline.

I will write approximately 40 paired readings and labs for this course. My first project for my sabbatical is to turn these readings and labs, along with other accompanying materials, into textbook form so that others can more readily adopt or adapt them. I plan to follow an open-textbook model for this project.

Media computation in introductory CS. My second project for the sabbatical is closely related to the first. For about a decade, we’ve offered a version of CSC 151 that focuses on image making. That version of the course relies on some custom-written software that is showing its age. It also assumes a four-day-per-week schedule that we no longer employ. I plan to revise this version of CSC 151 to fit our new three-day-per-week model and to rely less on our custom software and more on more recently available capabilities in the programming language we use. Once I complete this revision, we will have materials for three versions of our introductory course: these two plus a data science version we introduced in Fall 2017. I am not sure whether or not I will have the time to put all of the media computation materials into textbook form, but I plan to try.

Code camp study. For the past three years, I have worked on an outreach project in which we offer summer coding camps to middle-school students as a way to increase interest in CS and college, particularly among students who are underrepresented in the discipline. During the period, my collaborators, my students, and I developed curricula for four different week-long summer coding camps for middle and elementary school students, offered six camps, and gathered pre- and post-camp survey data from the students. As I conclude my participation in the project and prepare to pass it on to others, I plan to use my sabbatical to wrap up the work completed so far. I hope that I can use the data to support a scholarly paper. However, some unexpected complicating factors will affect the utility of our results. For example, although we had not planned on repeat campers in the original study design, we ended up with a large cohort who attended multiple camps. We also needed to change the instrument in the third year of the project, which makes comparisons more difficult.

MIST, the Mathematical Image Synthesis Toolkit. I began work on MIST in 2015. MIST provides a different model of thinking about images and image making. In particular, MIST describes an algebra of images, with semantics for combining images using mathematical operations. For example, there’s an explanation of what it means to add two images with a variety of meanings of addition. MIST also provides a Web-based application that supports the construction of complex images and animations using this model. MIST shows promise; in the first year, we had a user with synesthesia use MIST to illustrate how they saw sounds.

Unfortunately, I had to put MIST on hiatus while I worked on the code camps. Now that I am passing responsibility for those camps on to others, I can return to MIST. The software platforms we rely on have changed enough that I expect a significant rewrite will be necessary. I also need to spend some time thinking about the broader intellectual context and exploring the state of the art in digital art. There is also an open question of whether the MIST model can support the making of abstract 3D objects. I plan to use part of my sabbatical to explore these ideas.

Specify the location of residence during the proposed leave.

I had hoped to go somewhere far away for my sabbatical. But life has gotten complex. And it would be nice to be here for Middle Son’s senior year activities. So the answer is simple.

I am likely to spend the majority of my sabbatical in Grinnell. However, I anticipate some extended periods away from campus.

State the scholarly product(s) and/or enhancements to teaching that are expected to result from the proposed leave.

Whoops. Four projects. That means four statements. The new CSC 151 will be a textbook. The old CSC 151 will be a new set of course materials (and, ideally, a draft textbook). The code-camp product will probably be a paper. However, there are potential issues with that paper. As I noted above, we have some issues with the data. There’s also a question of how much co-authorship belongs to the twenty-four-or-so students who worked on the project. For the MIST project, my primary goal is to get the project into shape for future years.

Introductory CS through a digital humanities lens. I plan to write an open textbook.

Media computation in introductory CS. At a minimum, I will prepare readings, labs, and software to support the course. Ideally, I will turn the material into an open textbook.

Code camp study. If the data permit, I will write and submit a scholarly paper exploring the efficacy of the various camp models.

MIST. My primary goal is to put the system and model in a state that I can continue the project.

Include a statement on the accommodation plan for advisees during the leave period, as discussed and approved by the Department or Program chair.

I’ve discussed this plan with my chair. Fortunately, it’s a relatively straightforward plan in which I keep my advisees. Note that I would not recommend such a plan to early-career faculty; faculty should generally plan to give up their advisees during leaves.

Although I currently have over forty advisees, the vast majority are in the class of 2019. Only six of my major or concentration advisees are in the class of 2020. I will continue to advise them. All are aware that I will be on leave in 2019-20 and understand that most advising will likely be via electronic mail. I do not plan to take on many advisees in the class of 2021. I will follow similar procedures with any I do take.

I worry about whether I should try to undertake four projects during my sabbatical. I worry more that I may end up with seven or eight projects. What are the other projects? Well, if I’m turning two of the three versions of CSC 151 into textbook form, shouldn’t I do all three? That’s one. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a chance that I’ll end up having to revise or help revise the SIGCSE Volunteer Software. Ideally, it would end up in a form in which it could support multiple conferences. That’s two. And somewhere in the back of my head, I realize that I may be responsible for Grinnell’s installation of Project Callisto. Then there’s the issue of my office and lab. I definitely need to spend some part of my sabbatical cleaning them out [9]. However, none of those belong in this proposal. As I said, I already worry about four projects.

And there you have it, my draft application for a sabbatical. How long is it? If I use my old memo format [10], it’s slightly over two pages. But the only part over two pages is the advisee statement. Since that’s usually the department chair’s responsibility, I don’t think it will be an issue.

In any case, I probably need to take a few days to reflect on it and format it appropriately. Maybe I’ll even remove one of the four projects. It would make the most sense to remove the code camp project, but it’s hard to give up on three years of work without some summative paper at the end.

In any case, I expect to submit it within a week. I wonder whether the proposal will really be reviewed by the Committee for Support of Faculty Scholarship (CSFS) upon receipt [12].

Postscript: I mustn’t forget that I also need to update my CV.

[1] It does, of course, require that faculty members have accumulated sufficient years of service for the sabbatical time.

[2] Those who know me well may be surprised at the early planning. I’m a bit surprised myself. But I do know that it’s good to cross some medium-size things off the to-do list.

[3] For reasons I don’t quite fathom, the list is only available through GrinCo.

[4] For reasons I don’t quite fathom, our sabbatical policies are also only available through GrinCo.

[5] I see from the guidelines that the remaining balance of MAP credits [must] be used up as course reductions within 7 years, with 2017-18 as Year 1. Let’s see … That means that I need to use up my MAP credits by 2023-2024. That should not be a problem.

[6] enhancements to teaching.

[7] Or at least draft.

[8] In case you couldn’t tell, I’m using italics for comments about what I plan to write in each section.

[9] I may need to clean them out before sabbatical; there’s a chance I’ll need to give my office to someone else. I’m also thinking of downsizing my lab.

[10] I know that I wrote about making new letterhead. Things didn’t quite work as they should, and I haven’t had time to fix them yet [11].

[11] There’s also the issue of the 1.5-inch left margin they want me to use. A margin that large will mean significantly less text on each page.

[12] Grinnell College. Procedure for Application for Sabbatical Leaves. August 2018. Online document, available at

Version 1.0 of 2018-08-20.