Monday, September 14, 2009

Day One

Some people associate sabbatical with 'taking time off from work'. I hope they aren't saying that to my dean! I explain it to those outside academia as 'working for myself for a year'. And, really, that's a good explanation.

For the last 16 years, I have worked mostly for other people: teaching and doing administrative work. I've been able to work some for myself -- on research and writing projects -- but over the years it has been harder and harder to focus on my agenda rather than everyone else's. Therein lies the value of my sabbatical, where for the first time in years I get to work for myself.

My first official day here was a wash administratively. I started the day not yet 'signed in' at the university and ended the day the same way. But in the meantime I enjoyed meeting the very friendly staff in three different central administration offices: the Dean of Faculty, Human Resources and the 'card' office. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about what unpaid visiting scholars are to do in order to get an ID card. I-9 form? Yes, but then no. Letter of appointment? Carry that around with you, and don't let anyone take it from you: Live and learn, as my copy of the letter was graciously confiscated from me by the charming receptionist in the Dean of Faculty's office. Go here, go there, find the door around the corner from the bookstore and just before the construction site (construction seems to be a running joke around here). Bur everyone is so sincere and nice, so it's hard to be upset. Tomorrow is another day.

Substantively the day was better, a lot better. A little mucking around with data, some notes on research questions and approaches, some exploration of other secondary data that I can draw on. Working for myself! Very satistfying.

And, at the conclusion of the day, I went to a talk by an anthropologist of law out of Cornell who discussed her research on regulation of global financial markets from the bottom up. So invigorating! It made me realize how much I miss having scholars with similar interests around on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it's been so long that (1) I had completely forgotten what it's like, but (2) and perhaps more significantly, it suggests why I have veered towards being a superficial generalist of a scholar rather than an expert in a given area.

So, by the end of the talk, I had noted that 'this was a very good day'. That's a good sign -- that my first day back at my working sabbatical went so well.

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