Don's diary

一月 9, 1998


Approval of my application for sabbatical. Sabbatical is now called study leave. We have not found a three-letter acronym (TLA) for it yet. By the miracle of peer review, that cornerstone of British academia, a group of my colleagues has decided that there is sufficient merit in my proposal to justify a year's release from university duties. For once I do not care what the secret committee thought, it is enough to know I have been successful. I have a couple of great friends in the United States who have offered me a visiting professorship and I have secured some industrial and professional collaboration. I can do a little bit of teaching, finish some research (including a comparative study I have always wanted to do), and I can spend some time in industry with the collaborators. The kids will be wild with excitement, 12 months in the land of the free, watching wall-to-wall television. All I need to do now is find some money to get two adults and four children half way round the world, house them and feed them for a year - no problem. What will be the best thing for me? Escape from the dreaded TLAs - no more DABs, RAE, TQA, FTEs or EPQ. Even better, escape from their mutant cousins the multi-letter acronyms - ADRC and EPSRC.


Telephone my American friends, tell them the good news and thank them for their support and encouragement. Was it Winston Churchill or Mark Twain who talked of two nations separated by a common language? My conversation with the telephone operator is as follows: "Hello, my name is Charlene, how may I help you?" "I would like to speak to Professor Hancher please, my name is Peter Fenn and I am telephoning from the UK."

"Yes, this is UK."

They call the University of Kentucky UK, I do not include two letter acronyms in my taxonomy of confusion.


The long process of visa application begins. All the children need to submit separately and sign their own forms. Sam is only 16 months so for his occupation we are forced to enter "baby". The more you think about the forms the more surreal they appear.

I have been shortlisted for a Fulbright Award for my trip. This would solve my cash-flow problems and be a bit of a feather in my cap. Results of the secret peer-review process are due out of Brussels today. I have had a run of bad luck with grant applications to Brussels recently. Collaboration with the Holy Trinity, a personal letter of support from God, and the Archangel Gabriel as named researcher did not even get me short-listed last time. Usually I wait for the letter of rejection, it delays the inevitable and avoids the need for humiliation in conversational French. This time I cannot afford the wait and I am forced to telephone Brussels. They are not answering. Sounds ominous. It would be nice to get this one. It would show a few people.


Thin envelope from Brussels. "Regret to inform you that your application has not been funded." That is it. Nothing more; no feedback, no referees' comments, no statement on the successful application. I am incensed enough to fax off a snotty note demanding to know who was successful and what the referees said about my bid. Immediate response is twofold - no feedback is provided, and then the ultimate put-down: only one bid funded between the University of Oxford and the University of Harvard. Back to the drawing board. Who might be persuaded to give me a car or a computer? Surf the net and find a few addresses, you never know someone somewhere might fall for the remarkable marketing opportunities that will flow from sponsoring an academic. I would willingly wear a T-shirt with the sponsor's logo(s) emblazoned on it. Offers to The matter of housing is starting to worry us. I joke with the Americans that we could always live in a trailer park. They don't see anything funny. Start a mental list of "English" jokes to include in my lectures.


I wonder what a loaded duplex is, and what can four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms be? American houses are huge, not even my kids could cover one in dried crusted breakfast cereal.

Miracle - an American academic from UK is going on sabbatical at the same time as me and he wants to let his house. It sounds too good to be true. The sub-division is Brigadoon, we can identify it from the map, looks perfect. The impossible now looks more probable. Escape from the TLAs and a return to the meaning of an academic job - the luxury of study and discovery. The sun shines and for the first time in ages the world seems a better place. I must work harder so that others can enjoy the same opportunity as me. Perhaps the TLAs contribute, in some miraculous way, to this. Memo from registrars confirms that henceforth study leave will be known as Academic Study Leave. Terrific news and naturally the arrival of ASL brings a frenzy of academic celebration.

Lecturer in building engineeering at UMIST. Visiting professor at the University of Kentucky until August. Periods will also be spent with Bovis Construction and Masons Solicitors.



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