Faculty Travels Abroad, Brings Back Experience: Professors take leave to gain valuable insight into their fields

By Andrea Clarke

Elm Staff Writer

Sabbaticals are not vacations, no matter how much fun they prove to be.  They are opportunities for professors to remain up-to-date in their fields, are competitively awarded, and may only be applied for once every seven years.  Applications are due on Oct. 1 for the following year, giving the college time to find replacements, and each proposal is reviewed by the Tenure and Promotion Committee.

Donald Munson, Director of Environmental Studies, has served on this committee and was most recently on sabbatical at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.The proposals he reviewed as a committee member request either one semester sabbatical with full pay or a one-year sabbatical at half pay.

Lisa Daniels, associate professor of economics and environmental studies, is currently researching in Uganda on a one year sabbatical with an additional year of unpaid leave.

Another professor, Andrew Oros, from the political science and international studies department, is on academic leave in Beijing and Tokyo.  Unlike other professors whose salaries are paid for by the college, Oros is being funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. He was awarded his sabbatical after he “completed a 20-paged grant proposal . . . [that] included three letters of recommendation from other professors.”  Oros compares the whole process to a graduate school application.

Sabbaticals permit professors to travel and leave campus, a perk that many professors take advantage of.  For Oros, traveling abroad is imperative for his research.  He said that “it’s important to actually travel to the region at times to re-establish relationships, make new contacts, and get a sense of how things are going ‘on the ground.’”

Daniels is studying poverty, a condition that “would be difficult [to] study . . . in the U.S.”  It is important that she “meet with local government officials and international organizations to understand the local political and economic context in each country where [she] works.”  She is also “often involved in running surveys where [she needs] to be on site to train enumerators and supervise field work.”

Munson has been a recipient of four sabbatical awards. He takes sabbaticals to “re-think, re-tool, [and to] learn new things.”  Munson finds these academic leaves to be great opportunities “to get a new perspective, work with different people, and experience personal growth.”

“Some of the things I learned in the previous semester [during my sabbatical], I could not have learned on my own,” he said. His sabbaticals have increased his understanding of marine protozoa and have helped form the Washington College environmental studies major.

Sabbaticals benefit the college as much as they do the faculty.  Daniels said that the data she hopes to collect from her trip will allow her “to discuss with more authority the development challenges facing Uganda and eastern Africa more broadly and provide my students with concrete examples of economic analysis applied to policy issues in Uganda.”

Oros hopes the research he conducts will improve his classroom discussions.

“I’ve gotten a very up-to-date view of China that will enhance my teaching about that important country, including in my course on the International Relations of East Asia in the spring,” he said.

WC will also benefit from the book that Oros plans to write on the prospects for China-Japan-US security cooperation, his research topic.

Although perhaps not as relaxing, sabbaticals certainly have more advantages than vacations.  Getting paid (in most cases) to travel, work with people who share their passions, expand their knowledge, establish new connections, and work on topics of their choice, is a great way for professors to exercise their expertise.  More importantly, they share their newfound knowledge with the WC community.

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