A sabbatical blog?

I have a great job. It is great because I get to do research for a living. It is great because I get to work with fantastic colleagues and exceptional graduate students. It is great because I get to spend time in a classroom with enthusiastic graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in learning about science and agriculture. It is also great because I have the privilege of taking a sabbatical. What is a sabbatical? This is how the University of New Hampshire (UNH) faculty handbook explains it:

A Sabbatical Leave is a leave of absence for professional improvement and is intended
for the mutual benefit of the University and the person granted the leave. It should
facilitate productive independent study, research and creative activity by providing a
period for concentrated scholarly work.

As a tenured faculty member of UNH, I become eligible for a sabbatical leave after every six years of full-time service to my institution. This is my first sabbatical. For each sabbatical I take, the university covers my salary for the semester that I am away. (I can also opt for a year-long sabbatical at half salary.)

The definition above explains the general goals of a sabbatical; however, everyone who is lucky enough to have one uses the opportunity differently. Here’s how I’ve decided to use my time. I’ve crafted my sabbatical around three primary research activities in three locations. For the first half of my sabbatical (3 months, January 16-April 15), I will work with Dr. Stephen Powles and his team at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Steve is the Director of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI). I hope to learn more about some of the novel management practices Australian farmers are using to deal with herbicide resistant weeds and how weeds might be adapting to these new management practices.

I’m feeling pretty “official” with my new University of Western Australia ID card. I’m not sure what privileges it affords me, but it is nice to feel like I am a member of this institution (even if only for three months).

From Perth, Australia my next stop will be Dijon, France where I will spend just shy of two months working with my colleague Dr. Stephane Cordeau at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) (the French equivalent of the USDA Agricultural Research Service). There, Stephane and I will work on a dataset that I’ve generated from an experiment my colleagues at UNH and I have been conducting on annual forage crops for the past three years. I believe the data can be used to tell us how weeds interact with diverse crop plant communities. Stephane and his colleagues at INRA have developed some interesting plant trait databases that he and I will use to make sense of the data.

The bookend of my sabbatical will be the 18th European Weed Research Society Symposium in Ljubljana, Slovenia in June. There I will present the results of the analyses that Stephane and I conducted in France (here’s hoping we find some interesting results!) and interact with my European colleagues. On the way to Slovenia my family and I will make a quick stop in Croatia. After the symposium, we will explore Italy for a few weeks before flying home from Rome.

I’m fortunate that my family is able to accompany me on this sabbatical. My wife (Angela) typically works from home, so she can work anywhere, as long as she has a computer and wi-fi. My daughter (Sydney) is young and adaptable, and always up for an adventure (including spending the upcoming first term of 7th grade at a school here in Perth). They both will also be chronicling their adventures during this sabbatical in other sections of this blog.

As a university professor, my job entails not only research and teaching, but also service and outreach. One of my goals for this sabbatical is to use this blog to accomplish some  outreach by chronicling my sabbatical research, various observations of people and places, and my experiences interacting with my foreign colleagues and their institutions. And of course I’ll be chronicling the agroecosystems I visit and the farmers I meet along the way. There should be some interesting differences (and parallels) between the agricultural systems in Australia and Europe and those in New Hampshire and elsewhere in the US. It will be fun to explore those with you through this blog!

With that, let the adventure begin…….


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