Taking parenting leave, on sabbatical, or simply between jobs? Whether you’re away from academia by choice or by circumstance, you need to stay visible during your hiatus. This article presents strategies that can keep you from fading away entirely, without too much time or expense.
In a world where your next appointment may hinge on how many recent publications you have, you need to ensure that your name appears on at least one journal article per year. Ask a former colleague about co-authoring: it’s the shortest route to an annual author credit.
If you have colleagues who edit a journal, ask about writing an occasional book review or opinion piece, or assisting with editing a special issue—another activity that will keep you in touch with the field, but can be done from home.
Which brings us around to another important tip: make sure you stay abreast of the two or three top journals in your field, so that you don't sound out of touch when you bump into colleagues. Also take the time to branch out a bit, checking out related fields and good-quality professional literature. This can help you know about new issues that would be good to research when you’re back in the saddle again.
You can also stay connected with current ideas through research-focused email lists. Another advantage of these is that often you can ask others to forward you articles that are being discussed—access to journals can be expensive when your university affiliation disappears.
Another way to avoid loss of information access is to set up SCONUL and/or British Library access before you leave your post. Most universities also have their own schemes for library membership for people who are not staff or students.
At many universities, it’s possible to retain membership in a research group even though you have moved on from your post. Ask the current chair.
Also try to maintain your membership in a key academic research organisation, such as the Political Science Association or the Modern Humanities Research Association. The annual fee usually isn't much (see if you can get it covered for the following year before taking your leave…), and will keep you connected via newsletters, email lists, and conferences.
Person-to-person links with valued colleagues via social media are also crucial.
Just one conference?
If your location and situation allows, plan to attend just one relevant conference each year, even if it’s a bit difficult. You may even be able to find a conference that’s close enough to home to avoid travel.
This is especially important for staff who have been made redundant, are off work due to parenting, or who have had to leave a post to follow a partner’s career. Conferences give you a chance to reconnect with your field, its people and current ideas. Make the most of it, including setting up short meetings with people you especially want to retain close ties with.