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Local notes and guidance on applications for major leave: Sabbaticals


Here are some notes and guidance on major leave applications or sabbaticals. This document is decorated with quotes from the Academic Leave Policy.

Aims of sabbaticals

The policy document gives the following aims for sabbaticals:

Academic leave is paid leave which allows members of academic staff an opportunity for professional development in a way that would not otherwise be possible within the normal course of the academic session. The individual is released from normal duties for a period to undertake research or other forms of professional study.

  • Provide a regular opportunity for academic staff to have periods of uninterrupted, focused study;
  • Provide opportunities to enable a project to get off the ground, to come finally to fruition or to provide an indispensable foundation for future work.

— HR policy document

A sabbatical should be a transformational thing. Using a sabbatical to "just get done those things I didn't get around to" is aiming too low. A transformational activity may be a large grant, fellowship, or it may be "getting out of a rut", or changing a research direction.

When can sabbaticals be taken?

The policy says:

Members of academic staff may normally apply for academic leave after six semesters, for one semester's leave, or after six years for one year's leave.

Academic leave is not an automatic entitlement, is subject to regular assessment of research performance and must be in the University's interest.

— HR policy document

Where can a sabbatical be taken?

These days, one isn't required to "go away" for a sabbatical; the policy says the following:

Leave may be taken at another university, at a commercial establishment or industrial laboratory, within the UK, overseas, at home, within the University, possibly in a different School/Faculty, or in any combination of these locations.

— HR policy document

Local guidance

From the School's perspective, a sabbatical should be used in a way that significantly develops the individual to the benefit of him- or herself and to the School. Ideally, the study leave should result in significant new work, leading to a significant, often large, grant proposal, a major fellowship application or some other step change in the person's activities; having a sabbatical to do what you should be doing anyway should be a difficult pitch to make.

  • Sabbaticals should be used for developing significant grant proposals: A large collaborative project; an advanced fellowship of some sort; a change of research direction that leads to new grants and new collaborations; removing oneself from a "research rut".
  • to deliver on a new collaborative project, to initiate collaborations and to start new directions of work (and, it is to be hoped, generate more grants);
  • Sabbaticals can be taken locally, but the notes above still holds;
  • Sabbaticals are not for a "rest";
  • taking a sabbatical means you don’t do your school duties - cover or re-assignment needs to be negotiated with the school and a plan for what happens in your absence should be a part of your sabbatical application;
  • If a sabbatical is taken locally not all duties need be dropped, but it is advisable to drop at least a significant part of your duties to gain the benefit of a sabbatical.

Applying for a sabbatical

The school has a "leave of absence committee" that looks at applications and reviews reports on sabbaticals. Your application must include the following:

  1. Period of proposed sabbatical, including period of last sabbatical (if applicable).
  2. A description of the purpose of the leave, including a concrete plan indicating clearly:
    1. The objectives of the academic leave.
    2. The plan for the academic leave detailing expected collaborators, visits and research to be undertaken.
    3. The expected outcomes - these will provide the framework for an Academic Leave Report, to be submitted to the appropriate School panel within three months following return to full duties;
    4. The benefits to the individual and their future career, taking into account the guidelines on purpose of sabbaticals given above;
    5. The benefits to the School; It is understood that the sabbatical may not take place for around 12 months after the application and that therefore plans may change. Leave of Absence Committee should be notified of any substantial changes to plans before or during the sabbatical.
  3. The duties that will need to be covered.
  4. Period of proposed sabbatical, including period of last sabbatical (if applicable).
  5. Where the sabbatical will take place.
  6. Suggestions for rearrangements to cover teaching duties and any administrative duties. In particular suggest how lecture courses are to be covered and MPhil/PhD students are to be supervised. If the proposed period of sabbatical leave covers the Michaelmas Term, MSc students from the previous year will require continued supervision.
  7. The status of any discussions with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (or Postgraduate Course Director) as to whether the proposed arrangements to cover teaching and administrative duties are acceptable.
  8. The status of any discussions with the staff who have been suggested to provide cover e.g. has the member of staff agreed to provide cover.
  9. An indication of how it is intended to fund any travel for the sabbatical e.g. by personal or group research overhead funds, by application to external sources or other.
  10. The application should include an up to date CV.
  11. A written statement of support from the line-manager. The manager should ensure that all the points listed above have been addressed in the application and confirm that the application is supported.