PhD Sabbatical?

I ended up in a discussion yesterday with a friend about taking 6 months off to pursue our start-up idea. I’m not really sure what I think about this yet (haven’t had much time for the concept to sink in). But, my friend did joke that “this is your 7th year as a grad student, you probably deserve a sabbatical now.”

I actually looked up sabbaticals at my university (not for me, of course) but just to see what the rules are. And, apparently every 6 years as a tenured staff you can take a year sabbatical or every 3 years for 6 months. I didn’t realize they were that often. I think that’s pretty good, because I can imagine how quickly one would become overwhelmed between teaching, service and research and that at the end of the day something has to give. So a sabbatical relatively often is probably necessary to have a chance to re-focus and “ignore” part of your duties (usually teaching and possibly service) so you can delve more deeply into research.

I have been a grad student for a long time now. And I’ve definitely spent most of this past year feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. A break is definitely in order. How long that break should be is another question.

There are pros to the idea of taking 6 months off. It’d be a significant break, which means I’d get to actually step away for a while and really have time to think things over and get my thoughts together. I’d be able to focus a lot more energy (all?) on this start-up idea, which would allow us to figure out the likelihood it can actually succeed. I could work on some other projects I’ve had laying around that I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had the time/energy.

There are also cons. It means delaying graduation by at least 6 months. It would also overlap the submission time for main conference I submit to, which either means working anyway during my break so I don’t miss next years, or having to wait another year. It may mean deciding that I don’t want to come back (which is actually a kind of scary thought after all the time I’ve put in right now). And I’m not sure what would happen with my current scholarship.

Of course, this is all theoretical at the moment. For this to happen, I think a couple other things need to happen first. We need to really know that this business is something worth pursuing. It needs to be more than one of us putting in full time work. We need to have some sort of funding backing us, so we can actually pay rent and eat during this time.

However, it’s an interesting idea and something I’m definitely not dismissing automatically. I guess I’ll just have to see how things go.


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