On (or off?) sabbatical

It has been a bit silent on the blog in the past few months. And it was for a reason; I was on leave! Since some of you have asked me what I have been up to, I thought I’d write a slightly different blogpost this time, and share my experiences of the first half of 2015…

After doing trauma research for about 10 years, I felt that it was time for a break. My plan was to find time to reflect, experiment with new ideas, and learn, rather than simply continue on the research diesel engine (or, some may prefer the metaphor of a continuous sprint…!).

So I took a few months of unpaid leave. Some people said that I was committing career suicide; as an academic you’re expected to publish continuously. Certainly, the past few months have reduced my average output rate. However, I am very happy that I have done it, and I think that in the long run my work will be better for it. So what have I done exactly?

Help set up the Africa Science Leadership Program

I should have written about the Global Young Academy much earlier – and may do so more extensively in the future – but to give you the information in a nutshell:

The GYA is an organization of 200 scientists of all disciplines, from humanities to mathematics, generally under the age of 40, who have been selected for their excellent research as well as their commitment to society. It is a wonderful, very dynamic organization that focuses on issues such as Open Science and how science can be better integrated in policy making, and gives a voice to young scientists at an international level. For example, in 2014 we have been invited twice to present to the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board.

One of the most amazing aspects of the GYA is its diversity; our members and alumni come from over 60 countries. We actively try to build bridges between low- and high-income countries. A member once said that the best part of our annual meetings was to stand in the queue for coffee: you would have someone from Ghana in front of you, someone from Malaysia behind you, together with someone from Canada. All equally committed to making a difference in their countries. I currently have the honor to co-chair the GYA. It is a terrifying amount of work but also one of the most valuable things I have been involved in.

Long story short: one of my predecessor co-chairs, Bernard Slippers, had started an initiative to organize high quality leadership training for young scientists in Africa. His motivation came from the fact that he wanted to participate in a great leadership program in North America but wasn’t eligible being African. So he decided to organize a program himself and obtained funding from the Bosch Foundation, starting January 2015. Since capacity building is one of my main interests, I jumped at the opportunity to join Bernard in Pretoria to get the Africa Science Leadership Program set up.

Two weeks ago, we have had the first training week for the 20 inaugural fellows. It was fantastic to get to know these people, from all over Africa (Morocco, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Mozambique, to name a few) discuss leadership and what they could do to develop science in Africa. The trainers made a lovely short video impression. We will support them in the coming year to get started on their project ideas. And with our current funding we will be able to welcome at least two more cohorts. Our secret goal is to write a ‘blueprint’ document about the process and support leadership programs in all corners of the world :-). In other words, this is to be continued. Now on to the second thing that I did during my leave:

Start an online coaching program for young entrepreneurs and scientists

Over time, I have been mentoring many young researchers and professionals on a 1-on-1 basis and in small groups, and thoroughly enjoyed it (see Paper in a Day for example). Those experiences, some reading, and my wish to contribute to capacity building had been brewing for a while already. I hadn’t set out to work on this when I organized my leave at all but the ideas crystallized all of a sudden and I decided to, again, jump at it and see what would happen.

So I found myself developing and testing a 6-week online coaching program. I had planned to just try it out with 20 people, if I could find them. Within 3 days, I had a 100…and had to cap it at that number to keep it manageable. The program focused on

  • goal setting (for a specific project of the participant),
  • time management (not the hyped tips but the evidence-informed strategies)
  • overcoming internal and external barriers (think of the imposter syndrome and the email overload)
  • making use of enablers (such as good habits)
  • networking (in a way that really suits you and your style)

Everyone worked on a specific project during the program, and the action steps were aimed to help make progress on that project. It was a lot of fun, and I learned heaps about making videos and podcasts. In the next few weeks and months I will be refining the program and developing a few other resources.

I found a name for it as well: just as you can finish a letter with ‘Sincerely Yours’, this program is called ‘Accountably Yours’, referring to the accountability aspect of the training (which participants found very helpful).

And the research?

The leadership program and the coaching program were the two main activities during my leave. I’m now getting back into my research and am looking forward to developing that further too. With the Lab, we have collected data on parent-child interactions after serious injury, on emergency professionals’ knowledge of traumatic stress in children and their training needs, and on the consequences of fatal domestic violence for children. In the next few months, we’ll be diving into analysis and writing up these projects. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

What have you been up to?

3 thoughts on “On (or off?) sabbatical

  1. Dear Eva,

    this is great what you have done. I have done also a similar step in 1989 -90, leaving all my “obligations” and “achivements”, following a research motivation on conversion disorders.

    It was a luxury from an intelectual and personal point of view, a time of high creativity (inkl. my son!) and scientific discoveries and a never ending process of deepening in things that have and made sense.

    Your iniciative in the GYA is simply wonderfull and wish you more fun and sucess over time!

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