As we pass through the middle of April, I am faced with the reality that my sabbatical will close with this month. It’s sad, in a way, as I’ve very much enjoyed being able to focus on some math research and artistic activity. But, at the same time, I am looking forward to getting back into the classroom this summer.
What have I learned over the course of my sabbatical semester? Well, without getting into the details of my activities, I can point out the following items:
- I’ve learned that you can’t expect to productively engage your brain in certain forms of creative activity for eight straight hours in a day (or at least my own brain can’t handle this very well). To maximize productivity, I need to give my brain some less taxing things to work on in the midst of more focused research activity.
- I’ve learned that slow progress is still progress. This seems to be a lesson that I am constantly forgetting and then relearning. My doctoral advisor once told me that math research is often “glacial” in its movement. In other words, the results of mathematical research can be significant, but one any single given day, it might not feel like you have much to show for your efforts.
- I’ve learned the value of diversifying my interests. Rather than spend all my time and attention on a single research question, I’ve allowed myself to venture into some previously unexplored territory, and the results have been quite surprising! In particular, I am now preparing a research paper in the field of continued fractions and transcendental number theory, which is an area that is completely new to me. I’m optimistic that my results are interesting enough to be published. If I had not allowed myself a bit of divergence from my original goals, this paper would not have been written (at least not by me).
- I’ve come to appreciate the value of collaboration and communication. Over the past several months, I’ve learned a lot from other people who were willing to share a bit of their knowledge with me. This enabled me to create functional Python scripts for the first time, to create and display works of visual art, to carry out mathematical research, and to engage in stimulating discussions about the broader philosophical implications of mathematics, mathematically oriented artwork, and creative activity in general.
I might think of other lessons I’ve learned as I continue to bring my sabbatical activities to a close, but those are a few thoughts I wanted to share. I’m very thankful for the past few months of academic leave. I consider the opportunity to take sabbaticals as a significant perk of working in academia.