Over a year ago, I had to apply for the sabbatical I'd be due in 2004-05—contingent on tenure, of course. It was disorientingly early. The "research plan" I wrote was pathetic nonsense.
This fall, while I was preparing my case, was also when I needed to be applying for anything I wanted to do during the sabbatical. I let many deadlines slide past—of which I most regret the ludicrously early October 1 for the Radcliffe Institute. In the end I only sent out one application. The Nirvana Ergonomic Research and Development Institute (NERDI), in Nirvana, California, will be having a special program in an area that's not quite mine, but is hot and which I'd like to move into, in spring 2005.
Applying to NERDI forced me to confront a lot of things I don't like to think about: does anyone in my field respect me? Am I capable of doing research? Et cetera. Most of the people I asked for letters were quite junior collaborators of mine (well, okay, a couple of them had collaborated with organizers of the special program, too). I had to get back in touch with my doctoral advisor, with whom I, like many of his students, had a volatile relationship. That week, he liked me, although I don't know for certain whether he sent a letter.
The center of the application was a one-page statement of research plans. I closed my eyes and thought about what work I'd really like to say I'd have done, two years later. I didn't have time to check the literature in this fast-moving area to see if it had been done—a big risk. I said a bit about my background and prior work—why there was at least a tiny chance I'd be able to pull off what I proposed. A couple of short paragraphs whined about my geographic and intellectual isolation at Granolan and pointed out that the post-tenure sabbatical year was a perfectly-timed chance to address both issues.
(The work that went into writing that application essay paid off later when I had to write an "explanatory statement" for my tenure documents.)
NERDI had promised a reply by January or February. Nothing came in January. As February crawled along, I approached my mailbox with fear each morning.
The letter came Tuesday, in a small envelope. "This is going to be bad news," I said to the secretary, as soon as I saw it. (And, the day before the damn phone call, I really didn't need any bad news!) But, when I picked up the envelope, it was too heavy to be just one sheet. I opened it and read that they've invited me for the entire program, with some funding! I jumped up and down and shouted, "I'm going to NERDI!" Everyone poked their heads out of their offices and stared.
An obvious question, at least for those who know the whole story: what about the baby project? How will moving cross-country for half of next year fit in? Well, as Beaker put it: "If we get more good news, we'll deal." And, if we don't have more good news by the time we're out there, there are more and better clinics around Nirvana than there are within 50 miles of Granolaton. So, I think all systems are as just as go as they were going to be.