Sunday, 2 January 2011

The price of freedom

I am on study leave. This is a new, unfamiliar condition. I have never had a study leave in my long professional life. I've had research grants, but I have never been paid to stay away from work and do what I want. A luxury that my Cambridge colleagues take for granted.

During my three-year postdoc research grant I felt very lonely. I didn't have an office so I worked from home. I had most of the books I needed so I didn't use the library. I suppose I attended the research seminars in the department, but these were scarce. I missed teaching. I was happy to be back when the grant was over. I got a permanent post soon after.

I had another three-year research grant that was .75. I went to my department head and asked whether it made any difference where in the world I pursued my research, and since I was at the time involved with a project in Finland he surely thought I meant to keep going to Finland and said no, it didn't matter. In that case, I said, I was going to California. His jaw dropped, but it was too late. I did some teaching in San Diego which was good in every respect (not the least getting the J1 visa), but most of all not being confined to my own writing desk. I still had to do my 25% teaching in Stockholm so after two years, when it had accumulated beyond reason, we had to go back. Still it was a very pleasant arrangement: a lot of freedom, but not in isolation.

The problem with being away from your department for two years is coming back. Somebody else has been doing your job, teaching your courses, supervising your grad students. You have to start your career from scratch, or almost. The freedom had its price. Apparently, I never got over it.

I am a bit apprehensive about being away for a whole term. No teaching – well, but I love teaching. If I could just have the teaching and no admin, but it doesn't work that way. Admin is the price for the fun of teaching. No teaching then, no meetings, but I can sneak into research seminars and social events. I still have my doctoral students – study leaves do not affect them. Yet somebody else will supervise my wonderful, clever masters! What if they don't want me back?

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