Thursday, July 1, 2010

new message from my out-of-office assistant

The out-of-office assistant function on my email account got quite the workout last year, what with 9 mandatory furlough days and the need to apprise email correspondents (students, most especially) that there would be no immediate response forthcoming.  As of midnight last night, a new message is set for delivery:

 "I am on sabbatical leave through August 2011. Please contact the Department Office for assistance with museum and course-related matters."

Short and sweet, with no other explanations about how I might respond to some queries, but definitely not to others. The truth is, I will respond to my current grad students when necessary and maybe, maybe to  favorite undergrads who need letters of recommendation--but then again maybe not (would you?). I haven't decided about that yet. About a year ago, when I was writing my proposal, I set my timeline to begin in September 2010, but I fully intended to accomplish some important preliminary work during the summer--which is now 1/3 over.

I knew June would be a near-wash when I agreed to be on this search committee, which only just concluded its work, so I have tried to make the best of the situation by dedicating this past month to odd jobs that could be accomplished without a lot of extended focus and momentum.  And for me, there is always a period of involuntary, somewhat glazed-over, decompression that happens once grades are in and the semester is truly over. I knew this term would not be any different, so in some ways I didn't completely resent the fact that the search ran so late. It was a leash tying me to campus commitments, but left time to accomplish things I needed to do in order to prep for being away for the next year.

So, here are a few of the things I've managed to get done:
  • Wrote a comprehensive report on the collection inventory my museum class began this past semester. While the students did some amazing resesarch, I had to do considerable editing, sleuthing through old files, and consulting with former faculty in order to figure out some of the weirder history of this collection once it was in our possession. This report outlines everything we learned about the collection, offers a descriptive list of all documents consulted during the inventory process, and provides a timeline for all cataloging/tagging events--beginning with pre-sale dealer tags and ending with the completion of student inventory worksheets. I then created both a digital version and a loose-leaf binder intended to help my successor and any future researchers, since many of the idiosyncrasies shaping the disposition of this collection (a perpetually changing registration system and an under-funded, high-turnover student and faculty "staff") will also apply to many of our other collections. The final, final task related to this project involves uploading a few digital images that didn't burn properly onto the CD that supposedly contained the full suite of collection photos. I'll get that done today or tomorrow. 
  • Spent 5 hours last Friday tying up loose ends in the Museum, itself. In particular, I left notes for myself (or anyone who comes behind me, should I get hit by a semi while on sabbatical) about projects in mid-stream, odd object or folder locations, etc. My first boss--who hired me at big natural science museum in former city, when I was fresh out of undergraduate school--did a fantastic job of indoctrinating me (for a full decade) into the practice of leaving very clear tracks. He was a malacologist by training, and museum director by the time I came on board, but he had spent the better part of his career managing our vast and varied collections through periods of non-profit feast and famine. As I've tried to figure out who was coming and going at any given point in time in the history of our department's collections and museum, I've wished that more people had taken the time to lay down some explicit tracks: explanations of who, when, where and why. So I put things in order on that front, because I literally would NOT be able to walk away for a year if I didn't, and I do intend to do just that. And also because I don't want to spend my first semester back trying to reorient myself to the projects on my museum to-do list.
  • Sent in my abstract for October conference, which I (thankfully) can drive to, as I will not have conference travel-support next year. Easy trade-off, and I can deduct it from my taxes. This paper relates directly to my Fall writing, so it works as an external deadline.
  • Ordered a handful of books from Amazon that I've had on my wish-list. They are all critical to my research, and since last summer when I first decided I needed to own personal copies, they have now come out in paperback or used versions.
  • Bought a new Canon photo-quality printer/scanner. We have a combo printer/fax/scanner that I bought a few years ago and that we hooked up in TH's home office (vs. mine), but it doesn't scan slides (and has a lower resolution)--and that is on my list of things to do this year. This one is going in my office, though we may network it once we get a new router (our current one is on the blink).
  • Updated my own and the museum's webpages to reflect my status for next year.
  • Cranked out the index for my P-T review, which I would otherwise have had to produce within a month or so of returning, as it is usually due by early November. I did this for two reasons: I fully intend to forget about everything but my own research and life while I'm out (unlike one of my colleagues, who came to faculty meetings while on sabbatical), and chances are really high that I will not be able to remember much of what I've been doing on the teaching, service, and earlier scholarship fronts, once I've been away from this scene for a full year. Pre-tenure, one has to submit one of these outlines every single year. But after that, you're on your own recognisance--and except for occasionally (and much less religiously over the last year) logging some of that activity here and on my CV, I've done nothing but throw relevant paperwork into a very messy drawer and save emails in a dedicated folder. This, despite thinking every other year or so that I should surely start a running draft (also suggested by a couple senior colleagues). So, the first two weeks after grades were in, I started organizing this pile of stuff into the critical categories and drafting an outline. It turned out to be a good way to decompress.  I'll have to do some final updates based on the coming year, and I'll have to write a narrative (THE biggest pain of the entire review process--ugh!), but I'm good to go now, and can really afford to put this out of my mind (both literally and figuratively).
  • I've also spent the last month reviewing helpful writing tips like these, which surface every summer, and sometimes, in between.

I also have a few things left to do, but most of this is scheduled (or deadlined):
  • edit and submit ms. for conference proceedings (end of this month).
  • tour an incoming Native student (and award-winning beadworker) through our beadwork collection with former grad student (post-poned from Spring due to student conflict-gah!).
  • supervise a current grad student's qualifying exams; questions are written and date is set (7/12).
  • get that mailed off to readers--all of whom will likely be out of pocket, town, and country. 
  • get the new scanner hooked up
  • change the message on my office phone (I hope I can remember how)
  • return the latest round of de-accessioned, permanently -loaned, ceramics to donor institution
  • download the new version of EndN*te and get it figured out
  • open sabbatical-themed wine and enjoy ;)


participant-observer said...


You have earned every bit of it! But I am slightly jealous of all the time you will have to do things that are actually interesting and important to you, versus the usual bs.

auto ethnographer said...'s been a long time coming. And who knows, maybe I'll work on that ms. we kept talking about sending out.