My Year Away. And Back.

The Joys of Getting Back into Academic Life after a Year-Long Sabbatical.


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Hooray for Writing Deadlines!

Anyone who is an academic in the field of journalism and mass communications knows how traumatic April 1 is. And I’m not talking about navigating the school newspaper that takes its First Amendment rights to places it probably shouldn’t go by publishing the April Fools Edition. Instead, April 1 is the deadline for paper submissions for the national conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Given budget realities in many universities, having a paper accepted for presentation is the only way to get funding to attend the conference—and even then, full funding is a distant memory for many.

At the J-School that I lead, I try to be supportive of all things AEJMC. As a former president of the organization, I have a sweet spot in my heart for this conference. I want my faculty there. I want other schools to see how successful our faculty and graduate students are with their research.

Therefore, I encourage any faculty member who has even the mildest legitimate reason to attend the conference.   I fund each faculty member at $1,200. It’s not unusual for us to have 15 or more instructors attend so it’s a lot of money. Some complain that it’s not enough. (I tell them to talk to some faculty at other universities and they might not feel so bad.)

But it’s not the money that brings me to my point today. It’s the stress of waiting to see if your paper is accepted. When I was a regular professor, I didn’t worry about this very much. I had lots of research in the pipeline and it was always fairly easy to whip something into shape that would be a sure bet for the conference.

But it’s different now. I’m a full-time administrator without a lot research time—especially this semester because I’m trying to finish up my administrative duties by tying up as many loose ends as possible and at the same time launch my “regular professor” life that begins on July 1 with My Year Away.

True, I can probably justify one more conference without a paper but I will need a legitimate reason next time. Since this is my transition year, I decided I might as well start experiencing the trauma just like everyone else.

I had to get a paper ready for April 1. I figured I better hedge my bets and get two papers ready. I needed a strategy. First, I called one of my long-ago research colleagues (who also happens to be a best friend, which makes it all the easier) and said “hey, let’s do a paper for AEJMC.” Even though she’s a provost with absolutely zero free time, she was in.

Second, I called a former graduate student who is in her first year as a tenure-track assistant professor. We had talked about doing some research together and she had a lot of unused data from her dissertation. Plus, the girl is a research machine. She, too, was in.

All this occurred in the fall when it seemed like there was lots of time to get this done. Then, of course, work got in the way of all our plans and we all found ourselves down to the last week with more work to do.

Today is April 1. Phew. Both papers are done and uploaded into the mysterious “All Academic” site that begins the blind review process.

I really didn’t want anyone to know that I was submitting papers because I didn’t want to deal with the humiliation of having to tell people if they were rejected. (And at least half of the submitted papers will, indeed, be rejected, so this is not a case of false humility.) But one reason I started this blog was to write what’s on my heart, to let people peek inside the life of an academic, to allow me a venue for working out my fears and joys about giving up administration and to head toward my sabbatical with my head in the right place. Somehow, owning up to insecurities about research, in my mind, is part of the process.

Plus, I wanted to publically declare that I love writing with these two academics: one a just-washed-behind-the ears assistant professor and one a senior academic with an awesome (the classic definition being “terrifying”) job. Social science research tends to be collaborative and I’m glad. I couldn’t have written these papers without them. I learned from them both. I was amazed at each of their strengths. The “young one” is a statistical whirling dervish (in the best sense of the word) and the “mature one” is a writing fiend.   She can spit out an elegant opening to a paper in about 30 seconds. I am second author on both of these papers and I couldn’t be prouder.

The academic life has some warts, no doubt. But, one of the best parts is sharing in the joys, the frustrations and, yes, the trepidation of rejection as we try to create new knowledge. We do this together. Full professors, brand-new assistant professors, graduate students. We might be at different places on the continuum of tenure, but as one of my favorite professors from graduate school said, “We are all colleagues-in-training.” Nothing like an April 1 deadline to remind us of that.