We see our professors in Red Square lecturing outdoors on a nice day, advising student-run clubs in the evening, or catching up with colleagues over lunch in GLAR, but mostly we see them in the front of a classroom. It is easy to disregard the fact that professors do more with their PhD than mold our eager undergraduate minds. We forget that they are part of a scholarly network that expands beyond our modest community of 1,700 and reaches a national, if not international audience.
They are respected experts in their fields whose research influences the very subjects we study as their students. Every once in a while, a favorite professor disappears from campus life and students are temporarily reassigned to another faculty member as their stand-in academic advisor. It is only then ? when professors take sabbatical leaves ? that we are reminded of their roles outside the classroom as researchers, authors, and practitioners.
This past spring, Dr. Stephanie Madsen, Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department, took a one semester sabbatical leave to work on a textbook titled “Development and Interpersonal Relationships.” She spent the semester gathering over 700 sources for six chapters, completing one chapter on social networks in its entirety, and writing a draft of another on friendships. She is writing the textbook with her former graduate school advisor, Dr. Andrew Collins, whom she has continued to collaborate with since the completion of her doctorate degree.
While the textbook was the main focus and primary undertaking of her semester, she also found time to publish a manuscript in a peer reviewed journal using data she collected with undergraduate research assistants. Her research focuses on adolescents’ romantic relationships and how parents attempt to influence and manage such relationships. This article in Journal of Youth and Adolescence was followed with a flurry of media interest, attracting the attention of a Wall Street Journal columnist, Sue Shellenbarger. In the wake of the article’s appearance, she accepted several interview opportunities to discuss her thoughts on parents and adolescent romance airing on National Public Radio, Boston Public Radio, and New York Public Radio, to name a few.
Madsen also served her field as a reviewer for prominent academic journals on adolescent development, presented two posters and as a presenter at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence in Chicago. She also spent time revising courses she teaches here at McDaniel, and caught up on her professional reading ? all activities that might be labeled “important, but not urgent”.
Because sabbatical projects are such concentrated, focused efforts, Madsen was grateful to be free of daily interruptions such as faculty meetings but also noted that scholarly work comes with its own set of challenges. For one, hours of reading and writing is undoubtedly isolating work so she made a point to meet friends for lunch to avoid cabin fever. It can also be tempting to avoid scholarly endeavors when you do not have a set schedule or demanding deadlines. She spent the first couple of weeks cleaning out every closet in the house and organizing her photographs, but set up a home office downstairs which helped to create a separate, consistent workspace that she retreated to each morning.
Ironically, the word sabbatical has its roots in the Greek word for Sabbath meaning a time for rest from work when in fact, a sabbatical may very well be the time when professors get the greatest amount of work done. However, Madsen concedes that working on sabbatical is more flexible and easy-going compared to being on campus. Even her doctor noticed she was less stressed when her blood pressure was appreciably lower.