Day in the Life of an academic: the sabbatical edit

People keep asking me what I do on my sabbatical, so I thought that it would be fun to do a ‘Day in the Life’ post. This is what I got up to on Wednesday.

IMG_6920I wake up about half an hour before my alarm went off, with the sun streaming through the bedroom window. I love it when the day starts like this! I spend some time mentally preparing for the day ahead, and then check my e-mail, the news and Twitter. Then, it is time to get everybody out of bed, and ready for their day, too.

As I am working from home, there is no commute. So, at 8h01m I am sitting at my desk, coffee cup refilled, and ready to start working. I choose a playlist for my first working session, and put my headphones on. This morning, Ludovico Einaudi keeps me company while I work on the outline of a research project that Jon Mendel and I are trying to put together regarding the social consequences of algorithmic decision-making. This takes longer than I had anticipated (it always does!), so it is only at 11h09m that I am able to send off the draft document to Jon.

I take a look at my pedometer and cringe: the morning is nearly gone and I only clocked in 1,002 steps. The downside of working from home is that I do move very little (unless I make an effort otherwise). I decide to pause for some tea and to stretch my legs. Ten minutes later, I am back at my desk, this time looking for sources of research funding. There is an increasing pressure on academics to obtain external funding for their research (as exemplified by the very sad case of Professor Grimm, at Imperial), and my employer is no exception.

At 12h30m I decide to get some lunch. Unusually, I have no leftovers, so I cook something. While lunch is cooking, I reply to some e-mails and check Feedly. I eat standing up, as I have been sitting all morning, and my back is hurting. (I am very envious of my good friend Angie’s office setting).


At 12h55 I am back at my desk, with an espresso. During my sabbatical, I have been investing some time, everyday, in professional development activities such as learning something online, attending a workshop, or reading something I wouldn’t usually read. Today, I decide to watch videos from the Quantified Self in a Sustainable Society event, as this is a topic that I am curious about, and watching the videos seems to be an effective way of quickly bringing myself to speed with what is happening in this area.

IMG_6925It is now 13h40m. I choose a new playlist (I am going for Script, this time, to help me through the after lunch slump), and I settle down to work on a paper. At 2h55m the alarm reminds me that I need to get ready to pick up the youngest from school. I grab a snack, and head off. On my way there, I listen to an HBR ideacast podcast. I find podcasts a great way to keep up with what is happening in the world of management and technology, or to extend my knowledge (e.g., with the Intelligence Squared or the Philosophy Bites podcasts).

I am back home at 4 o’clock. While I supervise homework, I answer a few more e-mails, and check social media for about 20 minutes. Then, I do a bit more work on the paper, but as I am a bit distracted, I opt for a low effort task: inserting references and general editing. At 6 o’clock I go to the gym for a quick circuits session.


After the children are in bed, I work for another 2 hours, mostly sorting out admin, and preparing for the meeting that I am having tomorrow.

This is very typical day, for me, in terms of hours worked, and the pattern (e.g., stopping work to pick up the children from school, but do a bit more work when they are in bed). However, as you may imagine, the pace and the actual activities are very different from what I do outside of the sabbatical. For instance, I would spend a lot (!) more time dealing with e-mails and admin work, and I would struggle to find so much time to look for funding. Also, I would have no time for regular professional development activities, which frustrates me as I am a naturally curious person, who likes to keep learning new things and developing new skills.

How do you find (or create) time and opportunities for professional development?

8 thoughts on “Day in the Life of an academic: the sabbatical edit

  1. I find that working from home you are never able to switch off. Unless you are careful, home becomes more of a prison as the workplace. It can be very hard, especially when it becomes increasingly difficult to do your job at work….


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