#AskAnAcademicAuntie: How to Sabbatical

On this bonus episode, it’s host’s prerogative: What do you do on a sabbatical? Dr. Genevieve Fuji-Johnson (@JohnsonFuji) and Dr. Paola Ardiles (@Paola_A_Ardiles) drop a little wisdom to help Ethel make the most of her year.

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Transcript
Ethel Tungohan:

I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan. This is Ask an Academic Auntie, our bonus episodes where we take your questions and try to provide some auntie wisdom. Have a question? Message us at, @AcademicAuntie on Twitter, or email us at podcasts@academicaunties.com. This week, I'm going to be using my host privileges to ask a question of my own.

Ethel Tungohan:

This year I am on my very first sabbatical. Woohoo. In theory, what this means is that I'm supposed to be using this year to step back from my teaching and service responsibilities and reflect on what comes next from my career. Unfortunately, it seems as though, I've just been busier than ever. My greatest fear listeners is that I'll be returning to my job even more burnt out.

Ethel Tungohan:

And I absolutely do not want that to happen.

Ethel Tungohan:

So I want to do my sabbatical correctly. So my question is what should you do on a sabbatical? How do you make the most of. With me to answer this question is Dr. Genevie Fuji- Johnson or Auntie G and Dr. Paola Ardiles. Or Tita Paola. Before we begin, I'd love it if you could introduce yourselves.

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie Genevieve?

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Yeah, thank you so much Ethel for this wonderful podcast and for bringing myself and Paola together. I teach at Simon Fraser University in the department of Political Science I've been there now for a whopping 16 years.

Ethel Tungohan:

That's fabulous. Thank you so much, Auntie G for joining us. And now over to Tia, Paola.

Paola Ardiles:

Thank you Ethel. I am such a big fan of yours and of the podcast, so it's a real honor to, to be here. I also work at Simon Fraser university. So we're actually colleagues and= we both work, on the unceded and stolen territories of the Coast Saalish people.

Ethel Tungohan:

So how do you sabbatical in a way that reinvigorates you and in a way that allows you to reset and understand your priorities.

Paola Ardiles:

Shall we start with a tweet.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Yeah.

Ethel Tungohan:

So I tweeted this listeners, I was like, you know, I usually get advice from #AcademicChatter #PhDL ife. And I was just like how do I make sure that I sabbatical in a good way? And there were a few good responses and Tia Paola's response was fantastic because you centered affect. You centered emotions, you centered rest.

Ethel Tungohan:

And I found your approach super refreshing.

Paola Ardiles:

Well, I think it has to do a little bit with my own background. So before coming to SFU, I was working for a while in the area of mental health promotion which includes paying attention to the structural issues that impact our mental health, but also what's happening at an individual family and collective, and even within, you know, the workplace is very important.

Paola Ardiles:

So definitely there's a lot of work there in that space that has made me really aware. Some of my research has also been in thinking about how do we design wellbeing in workplaces really intentionally. And so wellbeing for me is a really important part of the way that I wanna live my life.

Paola Ardiles:

I had been hired in a senior lecture position that is a teaching faculty role. And I had to go through the first year of the pandemic with the transition to online learning which we all know was really challenging. But at the same time, I was also dealing with a really personal grief issue in that my mother had passed away unexpectedly in a tragic accident the year before the pandemic.

Paola Ardiles:

So I hadn't yet recovered from the loss of my mother, who was my everything. Like my mother not only my mother. She was like my mentor, one of my best friends and the loss of her was so profound. And then I didn't have time to process 'cause it was like, okay, now we're in the Zoom pandemic and all that. So you can imagine by the time that year was over, I really knew that I was going in a path that was just like really just misery.

Paola Ardiles:

I was just so, so burnt out. And not having had the time to process. So I really wanted it to be a priority. So what I decided is I made a list of the priorities for my year that I was gonna be. I had a study leave year. And that year my priority was to focus on the research that I don't have a chance to do because I'm in a teaching position that doesn't give me the time to do much of that.

Paola Ardiles:

So that was like definitely something that I wanted to focus on. Priority number one, it had to be good for my own health and my own wellbeing. That was the priority that I set out. And I actually went back before this call today to look at that little note that I had written for myself.

Paola Ardiles:

And it was like, the criteria was good for my wellbeing and advancing my research. Those were my priorities. And then I had things in there, like for example, focusing on my family's health as well, and then you're gonna love this. I had the big word fun.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yes.

Paola Ardiles:

I wanted, like it was in capitals. And then the learning that I had set out in for the intention of this year was saying no.

Paola Ardiles:

I think that because I was in that period of my life that I had just, you know, started this position, it was the first, really heavy years of service and teaching.

Paola Ardiles:

Learning how to say no was something that I, I really needed to spend time on. Like understanding where that was even coming from, you know, of this need to please this need to perform. It was sort of coming from a place for myself of like wanting to survive in this system that I felt like I never belonged in.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think it's so subversive the way that you've centered wellness. Right. I think, you know, it's not often, I mean, first of all, when I had to provide my sabbatical plan, I think my Dean would've like thrown back my plan if I had said I'm going to be centering wellness and fun and research that's meaningful to me, 'cause that's not what they're looking for. Right. So kudos to you Tia Paola for being subversive. I think these are really important bits of advice that I need to hear as well. And I was wondering if Auntie G if you have any insights to share .

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

I just wanna be super blunt and just put this idea on the table, which is to take sabbatical it's part of our job. Like it is part of our job as university professors to take the time away from the busyness of the day to day job, the committee work in particular, the teaching, and to rest and to recuperate, and to muster our energies again so that we can continue doing our jobs, which is to advance knowledge.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

You know, I think for those of us who are racialized and minoritized, often a lot of the work that we do has a personal impact that is really super profound and it takes a toll emotionally and physically, like you mentioned. We're often working with students who are drawn to us because of what we represent to them as racialized and minoritized individuals. We often take that work super seriously because we understand the importance of community.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

But working in the context in which we do it's also exhausting. Often there's aggression, microaggression, but often there's there's violence or the threat of violence. So I think just being really clear that this is a job, it's part of our job to take sabbatical, to rest, to recuperate and so on and so forth.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:irst sabbatical, which was in:Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

So I think in terms of my email signature, I think it was pretty basic. I am on sabbatical. I will respond to your email when I can. Thank you very much.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

I guess that's what I have to say about setting clear boundaries. Just always come back to that, that place. We have to do this in order to continue our work.

Paola Ardiles:

It's beautiful because you reminded me of something really important and it's like the invisible work that wo do. I found that this is something that the regular labor that we are expected to do, like in our regular jobs, like in my case, you know, the teaching, it that's easy for people to acknowledge that.

Paola Ardiles:

The emotional labor that's involved there? That is not so easy to put into these parameters of your off work, because often we're filling some really important gaps in the system. Gaps around like support and infrastructure and mentorship that are not necessarily built into the system. And so I think that that's when it becomes a little bit more of the blurred lines in terms of like, what you say no to, you know?

Paola Ardiles:

I did end up working on a committee during my study leave, but it was something that was all really, really intentional.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

So when I did my first sabbatical and my second sabbatical I just, I didn't do any committee work. There were, of course my graduate students, and you know, my graduate students do tend to be racialized and minoritized. And so I do make it a point to continue.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

I don't have a whole lot of graduate students and I didn't take new graduate students during my sabbaticals, but it's interesting Paola because you also raised this important point that certain kinds of committees can actually be energizing and you can actually do really good work. So I think it's super generous of you to have done that work.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

But I also just wanna say, Ethel, this is your time. Just focus on taking care of yourself and your family and and focus on just giving yourself the time to write and to reflect, to slow down, and to research.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

I know your research is very engaged and, so enjoying those relationships with community members, I think that that's really, really important. And while recognizing, you know, this is this is what it means, I think, to have our jobs, which is, you know, the development of knowledge and the kind of work that both of you do with community members is really, really important. A lot of times the noise of the day to day busyness of the committee work and the teaching and all of the stuff really distracts from our research. So I, I think it's important to just say no to everything except what is going to center your wellbeing, and center the work that is really valuable to you.

Ethel Tungohan:

These are such important bits of advice. And I find it so ironic in some ways that we need a break from our work in order to do the work that matters to us more meaningfully, right? Because a lot of our day to day, you know, realities as professors, a lot of it is admin. A lot of it, a lot of it is service work.

Ethel Tungohan:

A lot of quite frankly, is work that is corrosive to the soul, right? It's work that, it's work that kind of kills you slowly. And so I like Auntie G that you did kind of emphasize that our sabbatical is our work entitlement, right? So this is part of our work. And so, you know, we should take that entitlement and use it to our advantage.

Ethel Tungohan:

Right.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

You know, Paola, again, you really kind of contextualized, like you don't just have a sabbatical, your sabbatical is contextualized with a whole history of stuff that leads up to it. You know, In my case it was the intensity of the PhD. Finishing my PhD, you know, not easy.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

And then the intensity of looking for a job,

Ethel Tungohan:

Mm-hmm

Ethel Tungohan:

Mm-hmm

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Not easy. The intensity of moving cities, couple of times, relationship meltdowns, existential questions around family for me. And then the intensity of the first few years of being in an academic job.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Ethel, this is your first sabbatical?

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

So you've done all of that plus the two wonderful little humans you've brought into the world. , I think it's really important to, yes, indeed. To schedule, massive chunks of time where you're actually not even doing your research actually. And you're just focusing on the fun stuff, the stuff that brings you joy. That is so, so important. Because for me anyway, up until the point that I took sabbatical life had been pretty stressful.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

And it's also true that I marked my first sabbatical, the beginning of my first sabbatical with my marriage to my wonderful husband, Steve Dodge. And so that was, that was intentional. You know, just wanting, knowing that I wanted to have a chunk of time to just be with family

Paola Ardiles:

Mm-hmm

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

To enjoy the time with Steve.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

And then I went away to Australia, which is an incredibly beautiful country. Now, of course, you know, international travel is not easy and it's complicated. But if you can't, at least get it into the calendar that you're taking six weeks off where you're actually just not even working.

Paola Ardiles:

So this reminds me to share one of the things that was really important to me.

Paola Ardiles:

I was dealing with the processing of my mother's death. And so I really wanted something intentional that I could do during that time. And so I had her ashes and so I decided to do like a journey across the Pacific.

Paola Ardiles:

I think that that's one of the things that, Ethel, if there's something that you need to get done for yourself, that is going to give you peace in any way, you know, I sometimes think about, you know, the nature of even I have an incredibly supportive husband and I have, you know, a son that chips in a lot. And I'm still the one that's doing the majority of the housework. Right. Or the, the work that is related to being in a relationship with people in the same household. Like whether it's not even sometimes like, thinking about doing the dishes, it's about all the other million of layers that go along with it.

Paola Ardiles:

And so I think that that's one of the important things that when I was away, they had to learn. I was like, oh my God, Paola does so much that we're not even aware of the things that you know, that I'm doing all the time. Right? So I think that that's a really important piece too, to just kind of like understand again, bringing our whole selves to our work.

Paola Ardiles:

I'm always talking about that, cuz I feel like we're often like in situations, especially in academia where we we're sort of like fragmenting different parts of who we are and to be able to bring our whole selves. And this is, this is actually what I need as a human being, I think is really important.

Ethel Tungohan:

I think all of these are so insightful. And I think the fact that as women of color, we already experience so much more stress. And so many more demands compared to some of our colleagues, and also life circumstances too, right, that probably for some racialized communities hit us more.

Ethel Tungohan:

I mean, I've talked about this on the pod, right? COVID was traumatic for me. Filipino community members were hit really, really hard. We lost so many people, right? And so I think what I most appreciate about this conversation Tita Paola, Auntie G is that the bits of insights that you're sharing is about centering wellness, centering fun, centering care, centering yourself, centering community.

Ethel Tungohan:

And this is counter to some of the productivity hacks that people dispense for folks about to go on sabbatical. And I think I'm always mindful of the reality that, you know, when it comes to kind of temporality and the longevity of women of color in academia, right? Like a lot of us die younger, right?

Ethel Tungohan:

Probably because of this combined stresses. And so I'm really taking the sabbatical year, at least what I'm trying to do is to kind of center myself, center wellness. Go boxing every day. Right?

Paola Ardiles:

Can I say something though? I think that what I discovered is that if we look at what I produced and I'm using air quotations here, I actually did a hell of a lot of work because I was enjoying it.

Paola Ardiles:

So, you know, if I go and take a look at what I normally do in one year and then look at what I did in that year, 'cause I had to put my report together when I came back and I, I couldn't believe what was in there. Because I think that I had the first of all the freedom to choose what I was gonna work on, which I think is really important.

Paola Ardiles:

But you know what, there's something else that I wanna point out that I think is really important for this podcast is that I had a year where I wasn't at the institution. And I think that that year of not being in that environment, which has in the past been harmful in many cases or oppressive in other cases, it was a year of liberation for me of not having to be in that space, was actually a protective factor.

Paola Ardiles:

And I wanna talk about that just in the context of the mental health part we were talking about earlier, because one of the most important determinants of health in terms of what the research says is freedom from violence and discrimination.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yes.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Yeah.

Paola Ardiles:

That's what protects us. That's what protects us. And so I think that that's also really important because I think, and I am going to be wishing you that component into your sabbatical Ethel of like sensing that liberation and that freedom to do the things that you're really passionate and you really care.

Ethel Tungohan:

Absolutely.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Yeah. And both of you have been raising the theme of longevity and I think that's really, really important to keep that in mind that life is long we hope. Again, life is precarious. But we hope that life is long. And so, you know, being kind to your future self by taking care now is I think really important.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah. Well, thank you both so much. This has been tremendously helpful. I will internalize and process all of this wonderful bits of advice. Tita Paola, Auntie G. If our listeners want to follow you on social media, do you have a Twitter account that they can follow?

Paola Ardiles:

Yes, I that's where I met you.

Ethel Tungohan:

Yeah, absolutely.

Paola Ardiles:

Mostly. We do have a friend in common, but yes definitely. I, my handle is, um, Paola_A_Ardiles.

Ethel Tungohan:

Auntie G do you have a

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Yeah, I do. I'm new to Twitter. Um, let's see. My Twitter handle is JohnsonFuji. I think @JohnsonFuji, and also I have been working with a wonderful illustrator Addison Finch and he, along with a fabulous web designer, Courtney Apps have created this wonderful website for me and my work.

Paola Ardiles:

It's amazing. Amazing. Check it.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

Thank you. It's anunusualacademic.com and features my work as well as my team. And it also has a page on which I share some of my sewing endeavors. So please check it out.

Ethel Tungohan:

I am so amazed by this. I will put this on the show notes. But from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much. Tita Paola, Auntie G. And, uh, yeah, I really appreciate both of you taking the time.

Paola Ardiles:

It was so wonderful. I loved being here with both of you.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson:

And me. Yeah. Really, really had a wonderful time. Thank you so much, Ethel. Thank you, Paola.

Paola Ardiles:

Thank you so much.