fredag 24 februari 2017

Financing my upcoming sabbatical in Barcelona (application)

Three years ago I went on a sabbatical to the US for six months and I'm planning to go on another sabbatical to Barcelona during the first half of 2018 (which I have written about once before on the blog). The largest crux of financing a sabbatical is my own salary. If I was willing to live for half a year without a salary, then I could go on a half-year long sabbaticals whenever I wanted to. Since I in fact have accumulated overtime (a lot), I have come to the conclusion that I can, without taking too much of a financial hit, go on six-month sabbatical to "catch up". I'm not sure my accumulated overtime will cover the whole six months though and there are also other (non-salary) costs associated with going away, e.g. increased costs of living when you live elsewhere temporarily. When we went to the US, it was for example absolutely necessary to have a car (for six months). In the end, it is of course better to go on a sabbatical and have better financial support.

As it so happens, KTH (generously) supports researchers/teachers by centrally funding a limited number of us to go on sabbaticals each year and I just handed in my application to become one of a dozen such recipients. I have no idea how tough the competition is but I have given the outmost care to the application I just handed in to the Dean of the School of Computer Science and Communication. Getting the grant is a two-stage process; I first have to be the one or one of the (supposedly few) candidates that my Dean recommends and I then have to compete with candidates from other Schools at KTH.

Besides some supporting material (my CV, a letter of invitation), my application is 1200 words long and it fits on two pages (e.g. on a single sheet of paper). I have spent a lot of time shaping and massaging the text - I have in fact spent a lot more time on these two pages than I spend on writing 2-3 pages of text for a scientific paper. I have also spent time reading and mulling over the KTH webpage that specifies what the purpose of the financing is, what KTH wants to accomplish with making these funds available and what criteria will be used to evaluate the application. The stated purpose of funding these sabbaticals is to:

- give greater visibility to KTH researchers'/teachers' mobility
- create exclusiveness, which is also a merit for the individual
- give teachers an opportunity to progress in their personal development
- reward excellence in research
- encourage innovation in KTH activities

That's a lot of different things at the same time, e.g. encourage innovation, encourage (and reward) excellence in research and teaching, help eligible employees progress in their career and in their personal development, make KTH a more attractive employer etc. Recipients are then selected based on two criteria:

- Excellence in research, education and interaction with society [companies, public organisations, NGOs etc.].
- An account of how the sabbatical can renew and deepen the [research] group's activities and KTH's research activities.

That means I have had to work towards these goals in my application and I have tried to hit as many buttons as possible. As an applicant I am also asked to write about the reasons for why I want to travel and include a project plan that describes planned activities and clarifies how the trip will develop me as an individual as well as KTH's research activities. I found this particular part to be tricky as we are talking about producing a "project plan" for events that haven't happened and won't happen for a year. I chose to instead described a few of the "projects" I will work on during my sabbatical and instead of spending too much time in the future (making airy promises and trying to sound convincing about why it - future tense - would be right to grant me funds), I chose to instead emphasize some of the concrete effects of my previous sabbatical, e.g.:

"I went on a sabbatical for six months in 2014, visiting the Laboratory for Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction (LUCI) and the Social Code Group (SCG) at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). 
A large number of activities have benefitted from what I learned and from what I brought with me home from that sabbatical both in terms of research and eduation. In terms of research, I have since co-authored six papers with ex-UCI colleagues (two additional papers are currently under review). I have also been the co-chair of two international workshops/conferences together with my ex-UCI colleagues (Computing within Limits 2015, 2016)."

I also made use of this blog to support some of the statements I made in the application and since it's a requirement to report back to KTH's president in writing after the sabbatical, I'm especially happy about this formulation:

"As to reporting back on activities undertaken during the sabbatical and increasing the visibility of staff exchanges, I would continously write about the sabbatical during the sabbatical on my academic blog ( I have in fact continously written (for the most part twice per week) about all my academic activities during the last six and half year – including those activities undertaken during my sabbatical at UCI three years ago(4)."
4. See for example,,,,

As I have now handed in the application, there's not much else I can do besides waiting - although I have no information at all about when they make a decision about who will get funds and who won't.

I here offer one last quote from the application since it could be of interest to readers of this blog:

"Planned activities are still under development but [my host] and me have discussed the possibility of me giving a ph.d. course while visiting them. I also have extensive plans for writing research papers and articles during my sabbatical and I certainly aim to explore possibilities of co-authoring papers together with [local] researchers as well as laying the foundation for joint EU research grant applications. I am currently involved in two research projects that both end in December 2017 and I am convinced there will be plenty of leads for writing up results from these two projects during my sabbatical. I have however decided that it is even more important to do somthing uniquely suited to being on a sabbatical and that is to write a book. My previous sabbatical was primarily financed by working in a research project at a distance. While that certainly was a privilege, I would very much look forward to the opportunities and the added freedom that earmarked KTH funds would bring."

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