How ‘sabbaticals’ really work: UI faculty bring discoveries, research opportunities back to your students through semesters devoted to scholarship
In some circles, the term “sabbatical” is a synonym for “time off.”
In higher education, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, a sabbatical is a time for a faculty member to fully devote him- or herself to research and scholarship, or even to develop new teaching methods, courses, or academic programs.
Daniel Eberl, professor of biology and director of the genetics Ph.D. graduate program
CDA: Spent fall 2008 focusing his lab on a new research area that impacts understanding of the biological dysfunction that underlies tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
How it’s impacting your student: Eberl integrated research findings into courses he teaches at Iowa, including the undergraduate biology elective Animal Behavior and Genes and Development, a course open to seniors majoring in life sciences and graduate students. During the CDA, he also trained a graduate student in new lab techniques and was able to more closely mentor another graduate student and three honors undergraduates in their own projects in the lab. In addition, he prepared a grant proposal that later resulted in a $400,000 National Institutes of Health grant to fund further research in the lab where he employs both graduate and undergraduate research assistants.
What’s more: He wrote three now-published professional papers during his CDA. Four additional papers arising from his work that semester have been published or submitted to journals since then.
In fact, although sabbatical is the popular term used by the media, you won’t generally hear them called that at the University of Iowa. Here, they are more accurately known as career development assignments, or CDAs. The Board of Regents, the group that governs the state’s public universities, calls them professional development assignments.
“CDAs are a way to fast-track some of the great research that we do,” says Tom Rice, the UI’s associate provost for faculty. “It is a semester away from teaching, but it’s not a semester off. It’s a semester in which faculty are achieving ambitious research goals.”
Phillip Round, professor of English and American Indian and Native studies
CDA: Spent fall 2009 in Chicago as a visiting scholar at the Newberry Library, home to a world-renowned Native American archive, and explored additional repositories of Native American books and manuscripts in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.
How it’s impacting your student: “The research enhanced my teaching in ways that are hard to quantify. In my literature courses, I now can show my students images of rare, one-of-a-kind Native art and manuscripts, printed books, and material culture that help contextualize all of our discussions of American literature. I also have been able to add two new graduate courses
“As the former academic coordinator for Iowa’s American Indian and Native Studies Program, the CDA allowed me to make face-to-face connections and forge alliances that have lead to shared consortiums, undergraduate and graduate student fellowships and mentoring, and inter-campus course sharing.”
What’s more: Round also wrote a nationally acclaimed book examining how Native Americans have produced and used printed texts over the last 200 years titled Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country.
Some faculty spend their CDAs working in labs or offices here on campus. Others travel to other cities, states, or countries to conduct fieldwork, visit specialized libraries and institutes, and collaborate with experts from around the world.
“A CDA gives a scholar the opportunity to become an active member of a nationwide scholarly community, to put him or her in conversation with experts no single university department could possibly contain,” says Phillip Round, professor of English and American Indian and Native studies at the University of Iowa.
Regardless of where or how professors spend their CDAs, their efforts produce new knowledge, which is shared not only through research papers, books, or other publications, but in the classroom, as well.
“Our instructors become more up-to-date teachers, more knowledgeable in their area of expertise. They truly are experts in their field, and they return to the classroom energized and genuinely excited to share their findings with students,” Rice says.
Many professors offer opportunities for students—including undergraduate students—to work alongside them as research assistants. Currently about 25 percent of undergrads get involved with staff and faculty research at the university before they graduate, according to the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates.
All that time devoted to research also brings money into campus. The Office of the Provost recently followed up with faculty members who took CDAs in 2008–09 and 2009–10 and determined that at least $15 million in grants came to the university as a direct result of work done during those CDAs.
To qualify for a semester-long CDA, faculty must first complete 10 semesters (five years) of full-time academic service. Then they must undergo a rigorous application process, including submitting a detailed plan and reason for their CDA project along with a statement of how the project will contribute to their teaching and scholarly development.
When the CDA is over, the faculty member turns in a report detailing what he or she accomplished; each CDA is generally expected to result in one or more publication, exhibit, professional performance, or new course.
“For parents, what it really comes down to is: CDAs allow your students to be taught by and work with cutting-edge scholars, which puts those students in a better position when they’re applying for a job or graduate program,” Rice says. “I encourage parents who send their children to large research institutions like Iowa to urge their student to seek out opportunities to get involved with this research. There are professors in every discipline who could use more quality undergraduate help.”
Learn more about the advantages of attending a research university online at http://tinyurl.com/researchinstitution.