STEM faculty members’
experience of sabbatical leave: a
Naser Shirbagi and Parisa Gholami
Department of Education, University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj, Iran
Purpose –In this research, which has involved collecting Iranian faculty members’accounts of their
experiences of sabbaticals, the authors are seeking to understand how faculty members make sense of events
throughout the process of sabbatical, construction these events into episodes and thereby maintaining unity
within their lives.
Design/methodology/approach –Using narrative qualitative method and episodic interviews the
researchers collected and analyzed the data by applying MAXQDA 2020 software. In this study, the impact
of sabbatical leave on faculty members’academic achievement was measured in three ways: individually,
professionally and organizationally.
Findings –Sabbatical leave changed their academic and personal values. In addition, the results of the
narrative analysis showed that sabbatical leave experience could enable faculty members to change
themselves in terms of their lifestyle and attitudes. A considerable influence on their families was also found.
Moreover, from individual dimension, it was found that participants’engagement with their colleagues and
their sense of social responsibility especially in environmental protection zone area had increased.
Furthermore, in professional and academic area, the participants reported tendency toward more team
work, more creative approach and they developed a sense of innovation and willingness to take risks.
Practical implications –The findings of the study showed that faculty members sabbaticalleave experience
could stimulate their global thinking toward foreign overseas universities, their students and colleagues and
they could have more publications in foreign languages. Based on the findings of the study some
reconsiderations in administrative regulations should be taken into account in order to enable volunteer faculty
members to take part in sabbatical leave programs.
Social implications –The authors demonstrate that how Iranian higher education regulations and
dominated patriarchy, deprive female faculty members from sabbaticals. In addition, the results indicate that
using sabbatical leaves by males, and mostly in STEM fields in Iran are fundamental in producing and
reproducing inequalities regarding gender and academic field.
Originality/value –The paper addresses an important topic and by using a relevant qualitative method for
examining participants’views in the study has added complementary information to the literature of faculty
members’professional development. The study has been conducted in a particular context with a different
understanding of the topic, since studying such a topic in Iran is missing almost in the literature.
Keywords Sabbatical leave, Faculty members, Professional development, Narrative research
Paper type Research paper
Faculty members play an important role in improving the performance of the higher
educational system. Moreover, faculty members’vitality and quality of teaching, research
and services can have a considerable influence on the productivity of each higher education
institute (Kang and Miller, 1999).
There are many strategies applied by faculty development ranging from in-service
workshops and professional conferences to investigating courses and seminars but one of the
most obvious and increasingly expensive strategies is sabbatical leave programs (Roberts,
During professional development, a faculty member might learn new techniques, expand
a research program, or finish off a book or pile of languishing manuscripts. The dream starts
with meticulous advanced planning, but ends best for those who are adaptable and open
minded (Tachibana, 2013).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 15 April 2019
Revised 28 September 2019
13 March 2020
6 July 2020
Accepted 6 July 2020
Journal of Applied Research in
© Emerald Publishing Limited
Leaves of absence are among the most important means by which the teaching
effectiveness of faculty members may be enhanced, their scholarly usefulness enlarged, and
an institution’s academic program strengthened and developed. A sound program of leaves is
therefore of vital importance to a college or university (AAUP, 2015, p. 317).
The conceptual framework of faculty members’professional development is based on
theories of organizational change, organizational development and human resource
development. Organizational change is a specifically planned process and a conscious
effort to reinforce the ways through which departments, faculties or the entire of organization
operate (Ghalavandi, 2015). While organizational development is an effort which is (1)
planned, (2) organized-widely and (3) managed from the top to increase organization
effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization “processes”using
behavioral science knowledge (Cummings and Worley, 2005, p. 2).
And finally, human resource development (HRD) represents learning and development
orientation of both individual and organization. HRD encompasses four fundamental areas:
career development (professional), individual development (personal), performance
management and organizational development (Gilley and Gilley, 2006, p. 482).
Professional development at universities involves a range of productivity outputs to
demonstrate how faculty members accumulate individual knowledge and skills, develop
their disciplinary and specialized knowledge, understanding and contribute to social change
(Akerlind, 2005). Such outputs include obtained academic credentials, improved quality of
work and increased effectiveness. Moreover, some researchers have been added more
outputs. For example, Bojarczyk (2008) added to the list some items such as, problem-solving
and deep learning strategies, interacting with students, establishing links between the stated
goals of a course and the content presented based on the students’understanding,
interpersonal relationships between students, promoting reflective practice and collaboration
among faculty members through support, constructive critique and peer assessment of
It is important to consider the effectiveness of sabbatical leave by analyzing underlying
and influential factors and explaining mechanisms which may improve the process (World
Health Organization, 2006). In addition, the sabbatical leave can create new perspectives for
faculty members, and reinvigorate and strengthen their motivation for expanding their
professional knowledge (Davidson et al., 2010). Moreover, one of the traditional and symbolic
roles of sabbatical leave is enhancing the sense of citizenship (Marginson, 2011).
According to Maureen et al., (2012), using sabbatical leave as a way for developing human
resources in the academic literature has received due attention. However, there is evidence
that obviously demonstrates the wide range of motivations and different activities in using
these opportunities. The aforementioned activities include opportunities for personal and
career development, gaining experience by working in foreign institutions, supporting other
colleagues and preparation tools for retirement. In some organizations, these sabbatical leave
opportunities are an important part of broader organizational goals and policies related to
work–life balance and social responsibility. Therefore, this article attempts to identify the role
of this strategy in professional development, culture and academic identity by exploring the
traditions and common values of faculty members and analyzing their experiences of
sabbatical leave. In addition, this article aims to examine why the sabbatical leave is an
important part of academic life.
Some parts of the literature review on sabbatical leave can be found by exploring the travel
logs and diaries of those who have participated in sabbatical leaves and examining the
outcomes of their travels for such leave.
Sima and Denton (1995) outlined some possible functions of sabbatical leave as follows: to
conduct research; to engage in uninterrupted study; to write journal articles or a book; to
enhance artistic performance and creative growth; to improve teaching; to promote course
and curriculum development; to refresh new experiences and travel (p. 9).
Carr and Tang (2005) also reported that many faculty members expressed a greater
commitment to work and had more cheerful and enthusiastic feeling about their field of study
after sabbatical leave.
Irvani (2011) reported that the impact of sabbatical leaves can be classified into five
components: professionalization, psychological/ cultural effects, capacity building
component, institutional productivity component, personal motivation component.
In addition, Else (2015) reported that sabbaticals provide scholars with a chance to explore
new cultures, learn how higher education works in other parts of the world and immerse
themselves in a particular project.
In a study Sharifzadeh and Abdollahzadeh (2011) found that sabbatical leave can have an
influence on individual, family, professional and organizational ranks as well as presenting
unintended challenges such as financial problems and long administrative procedures.
Smith et al. (2015) in their research showed that male and female faculty members shared a
common view of the conditions that prevented their access to sabbatical leave. Some of these
barriers include family circumstances, childcare, unfairness, etc. They concluded that
females were more concerned with the application process, adequacy of leave and the role of
the head of department in accessing sabbaticals than males, and females had little chance of
studying due to job conditions. They also revealed that qualified women tended to have fewer
and shorter sabbatical leave.
Dehnavieh et al. (2015) reported challenges faced by the faculty members in using the
sabbatical leave as university problems, the problems faced by a faculty member, the
problems at higher policy levels, the problems in the selection of target country, admission,
funding and monitoring assessment system.
Lincoln (2016) in a study of the sabbatical leave at the University of Oslo, demonstrated
that such a mission is a good and regular practice that takes into account both professional
and cultural differences.
Yazdananah and Salimi (2017) also found that the sabbatical leave from the faculty
members’perspectives was an opportunity to study, to update their specialty, to escape from
the routine and recession, to focus on a subject, to gain joint scientific cooperation and to sum
up experiences and ideas, to face new scientific events and eventually to obtain a great
Yarmahammadian et al. (2018) described the experiences the sabbatical leave in three
themes of organizational and professional experiences, teaching, instruction, and curricular
experiences, and research and technology management experiences.
In Iran, the sabbatical leaves started in the second half of the 19th century of Fathali
Shah’e Ghajar in the Ghajar’s period by Abbas Mirza’s measures (Irvani, 2011). The process
of applying for a sabbatical leave in Iran consists of three stages: the first stage covers the
actions before leaving the country including obtaining admission, completing request form,
submitting request to the department, obtaining approval from the university presidency,
submitting documents to the international relations office of the ministry of interior, being
introduced to the legal affairs office for commitment, issuing introduction letter to the
embassy for receiving visa, booking tickets, announcing the date of departure, requesting
sabbatical leave verdict and introducing a representative for keeping track of the applicant’s
affairs. The second stage relates to the actions after leaving the country which involves
announcing the arrival date, submitting scientific activity reports every three months,
obtaining confirmation of periodic reports, obtaining foreign exchange letters and the final
stage is deals with the actions after entering the target country involving announcing the
entry date, submitting a comprehensive report form, providing necessary documents for
settlement, reviewing and obtaining approval of the financial documentation and finally
submitting the documents to the university finance.
According to the statistics provided by Iranian Higher Education Research and Planning
Organization (2018), the total number of universities and research institutes affiliated to the
Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT) was 147. The total number of full-time
faculty members was 26119, out of which 21624 (82.8%) were male and only 4485 (17.2%)
were female apart from nongovernmental and medical sciences universities.
In recent years, the Ministry of Science Research, and Technology (MSRT) in Iran has
required universities to organize the overtime pay of various educational, research, executive
and consulting activities to faculty members and to measure their performance based on the
productivity index. One of the criteria for the productivity of faculty member is the extent to
which he/she seeks the opportunities for academic development in national and international
scientific communities. Therefore, an investigation into how faculty members use their
professional development opportunities is of important to universities.
In this study, faculty members were analyzed with the aim of interpreting and
representing various dimensions of their experience of sabbatical leave. Therefore, the main
goal of the study was to determine the role of sabbatical leave on faculty members’
professional development within the context of the culture and identity of the university. To
this end, three fundamental questions were investigated:
(1) What meanings, values and traditions do faculty members transfer to their
colleagues, students and university during sabbatical leave?
(2) What challenges do faculty members face during sabbatical leave and how do they
adapt themselves to these challenges?
(3) What are the consequences and advantages of sabbatical leave from the perspective
of faculty members on their professional development and personal life?
Many papers have discussed the value of sabbaticals, and they have been some scholars
that have discussed the advantages of sabbatical leaves in Iran. But it seems that the
findings of narrative analysis in addition to creating insight and understanding of the
subject under study, can consider unexplored areas in the existing literature through
personal experiences, provide a new line of thought in order to support and use sabbaticals,
and be more effective in justifying university officials and faculty members. In other words,
the narrative research identifies epiphanies and turning points, and theories related to the
lives of participants and their particular meanings in the stories. Other research methods
have failed to represent such personal experiences and have not focused on the life stories of
In this study a qualitative approach based on an interpretive paradigm was applied to
analyze the data. Since researchers aimed to represent the experience and feelings of the
faculty members, a narrative research strategy was employed. A narrative approach
emphasizes what has happened and what the individual has learned about what has
happened. This method can help the researcher understand individual’s definition of their
own experiences better (Paul, 2013). The narrative approach is based on the
phenomenological assumption experienced through stories, can become a part of
consciousness (Thompson et al., 2017, p. 29).
Research Field: Participants in this study were faculty members from the state
universities who completed their sabbatical and had the experience of sabbatical leave
over the last 10 years. The list of the participants is shown in Table 1. The sampling
University place of
activity Role Gender Frequency
1. Kurdistan Lecturer Male 1 2015 Long-
2. Hamedan Lecturer Male 1 2014 Long-
3. Hamedan Lecturer Male 3 2011 Short-
4. AllameTabatabai Lecturer Male 1 2018 Long-
5. Tehran Lecturer Male 1 2012 Long-
6. Tehran Lecturer Male 1 2009 Long-
7. Kurdistan Lecturer Male 1 2011 Long-
8. Kurdistan Lecturer Male 2 2009 Long-
9. Lorestan Lecturer Male 2 2010 Short-
10. AllameTabatabai Lecturer Male 1 2008 Long-
11. TarbiatModares Lecturer Male 1 2011 Long-
12. TarbiatModares Lecturer Male 1 2014 Long-
13. Hamedan Lecturer Male 1 2010 Long-
14. TarbiatModares Lecturer Male 2 2011 Short-
15. Ahvaz Lecturer Male 1 2013 Long-
16. Ahvaz Lecturer Male 1 2016 Long-
17. Tehran Lecturer Male 1 2016 Long-
18. Lorestan Lecturer Male 2 2010 Long-
19. Kurdistan Lecturer Male 4 2008 Short-
20. Hamedan Lecturer Male 1 2013 Long-
21. AllameTabatabai Lecturer Male 1 2017 Long-
22. AllameTabatabai Lecturer Male 1 2015 Long-
23. Lorestan Lecturer Male 1 2011 Long-
24. Kermanshah Lecturer Male 1 2009 Long-
25. Ahvaz Lecturer Male 3 2009 Short-
Profile of contributors
in the research
method was mainly purposeful. In total, 25 faculty members participated from the
universities of Tehran, Lorestan, Hamedan, TarbiatModares, Allame Tabatabai, Ahvaz
Despite the investment of universities in sending faculty members to sabbatical leaves,
the results of these missions have always been a special importance for universities.
Considering the limited number of studies conducted in this area in Iran, the aim of this study
is to analyze the narratives of faculty members’experiences of overseas sabbatical
By examining sabbatical leave experience of Iranian faculty members and comparing
them with international findings, we can find that although most of the terms and conditions
of using sabbatical leave have been originally derived from Western countries, they have
been implemented with some modification with regard to universities’financial status and
policies in various administrations. The MSRT has made slight changes in various
governments. For example, during Khatami’s reformist presidency, the focus was more on
social sciences and humanities, but in the era of principled governments (hardliners) science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines were a priority. Also, after the
Islamic Revolution in 1979, women have not been allowed to use sabbatical leave as
Data Collection: The main instrument for the data collection was an “episodic interview”
protocol to elicit research narratives, given that only one element of the participant’s
professional life was investigated in this study. The starting point for the episodic interview
is the assumption that subjects’experiences of a certain domain are stored and remembered
in forms of narrative-episodic and semantic knowledge. The episodic interview yields
context-related presentations in the form of a narrative, because these are closer to
experiences and their generative context than other presentational forms. They make the
processes of constructing realities more readily accessible than approaches which aim at
abstract concepts and answers in a strict sense. But the episodic interview is not an attempt to
artificially stylize experiences as a “narrate-able whole.”Rather it starts from episodic-
situational forms of experiential knowledge. Special attention is paid in the interview to
situations or episodes in which the interviewee has had experiences that seem to be relevant
to the question of the study (Flick, 2009, p. 185).
In several domains, the episodic interview facilitates the presentation of experiences in a
general, comparative form and at the same time it ensures that those situations and episodes
are told in their specificity. Therefore, it includes a combination of narratives oriented to
situational or episodic contexts and argumentation that peel off such contexts in favor of
conceptual and rule-oriented knowledge. The interviewee’s narrative competence is used
without forcing the interviewee to finish a narrative against his or her intentions. The central
element of this form of interview is that you recurrently ask the interviewee to present
narratives of situations. Flick (2009, p. 186). Thus, we prepared an interview protocol in order
to orient the interviews to the topical domains for which such a narrative is required. The
interview protocol included 10 questions in order to loosely steer faculty members through
their experience of sabbatical leave (see Appendix).
In the interviews, the interviewees is frequently asked to narrate the event/experience for
example: when was your first experience of sabbatical leave? In addition, in the interview a
chain of events can be pointed out (what is the role of your sabbatical leave experience in your
recent professional identity?) Another aspect of this type of interview is related to the
respondents’imaginations of the predictable changes or changes that the individual fears (in
your opinion what changes might happen in the process of sabbatical leave?). At the end of
the interview, by posing some questions the interviewee’s personal definitions are addressed
and the additional questions complete the narrative (what comes to your mind, when you hear
the word “sabbatical leave”?
Implementation: In accordance with ethical regulations, before conducting the interview
the participants were informed of the purpose of the research and their informed consent were
obtained by assuring them of the confidentiality of the data. In addition, an explanation was
provided about how the interview data would be encoded and how the participant names
would be protected and further details were provided regarding the audio-recording of the
interviews. Each participant was interviewed once. The interviews lasted between 45 and
70 min. Moreover, notes were collected from observations, interactions and communication
with the participants. Rich data were also collected by investigating faculty members’books,
photos and work reports they had prepared during their sabbatical leave period.
Reliability and validity: A purposeful sampling method can enable the researchers to
increase the number of participants in different academic settings, thus it can allow the data
to be collected from a number of sources (construct and internal validity). In the study, the
external validity was provided by adopting a thematic approach in order to analyze and
interpret the data.
In the present research, reliability was addressed in several ways. First, it was enhanced
by obtaining detailed field notes through employing a good-quality tape and player for
recording and by transcribing the tape. Second, coding was done blindly with the help of
coding staff conducting the research without being aware of the expectations and questions
of the project directors and by means of computer program in order to assist recording and
analyzing the data. Third, intercoder agreement was used by developing a codebook of codes
that would be stable and represent the coding analysis of three independent coders.
Data analysis: Thematic analysis is the most common type of narrative analysis. In this
analysis, the most important point is to answer the “what”questions (Riesman, 2008). In this
research, the researcher used Braun and Clark’s (2006) method to analyze the narratives
carried out using Maxqda 2020 software. The analysis of the study included the following
steps: (1) after listening to the recorded interviews several times and implementing them, the
researcher repeatedly reviewed the text of the interviews and extracted the original concepts
by underlining them. (2) In order to create the initial themes, the researcher placed the basic
concepts in a hypothetical classification and classified them into the original themes and then
once again reviewed the subject matter and construed the relation of each of the concepts to
the themes. In the initial examination, if the concept would belong to a different subtheme, the
subtitle name was changed and the integration of similar themes was considered, and finally
the researcher reviewed the themes. (3) At this stage, the researcher used the software to
ensure that a complete analysis of the data was first created by separate folders for each
function in the software. Then the specified code of each source was entered separately in the
corresponding folder. In addition, each source was re-examined to encode, if possible, the
relevant new sections, and the encoded sections that appeared to be unrelated would
eventually be displayed after the analysis of the code, and then the researcher using the field
notes interpreted the data from the research.
The study addressed three questions regarding the meanings, challenges and implications of
sabbatical leave for professional development from the faculty members’perspective. The
analysis represented 251 concepts, 17 subthemes and six main themes. Each theme consists
of several elements called subthemes, and each subtheme contains several concepts. In
Table 2, an example of the analysis of a question is provided.
In the following section, the analysis of the data is presented in response to each research
question in turn.
RQ1. What meanings, values and traditions do faculty members transfer to their
students, colleagues and university during sabbatical leave?
Faculty members valued their sabbatical leave as an opportunity to satisfy their scientific
desire in four themes of: mental reconstruction, new achievements, scientific renewal and
different lifestyle. At the level of concepts, the participants recognized the potential of
sabbatical leave as an opportunity to do research, test abilities, gain new experience, update
ideas, enter the world, carry out new research, adapt new knowledge, update research
methods and innovate.
Results also showed that faculty members perceived different meanings from their
experience of sabbatical leave and were able to transfer them mostly to students and the
university. These different meanings seem not to be related to environment or academic level
difference but it appears that these meanings were influenced by changes during and
following sabbatical leave in different aspects of faculty members’lives.
Although faculty members had a positive view of sabbatical leave in general, some of
them did not prioritize their students as a part of the experience. Some of the faculty members
did not receive good feedback from the university and they believed that from the faculty
members’points of view who have the new ideas and experiences of sabbatical leave, they are
equated with faculty members who do not have these qualities.
Moreover, some of them stated that, they experienced some kind of depression and
reported feeling indifferent and aimless at about their field of research after returning from
the sabbatical leave. Here is the description of one of the faculty members of his experience:
Basically, the university does not benefit from the experience of those who had a sabbatical leave,
and essentially no questions are asked such as: among all the good experiences you have, which one
is the best to implement in our university? Do you have any idea that we can execute a tour
university? This experience always remains in our own personal world (p. 3).
Other faculty members advised students about the experience of different courses and
believed that if the students themselves and other faculty members had these experiences, the
quality of university teaching and learning would improve. Another faculty member also
described his sabbatical leave experience:
This is an opportunity in which a researcher can not only develop his/her scientific co-operation with
an institute throughout the world but also can improve his/her scientific knowledge and methods
which may help he/she gain new insights about the causes of progress (p. 19).
Results also showed that the faculty members realized different values and meanings from
their experience of sabbatical leave and were able to convey most of these experiences to the
students and the university. To this end, the faculty members undertook a variety of
(1) Maintaining and using the AD calendar instead of the Hijri calendar that signifies
Quotation Concepts Subtheme Theme
In the sabbatical leave period, people
communicate with reputable individuals
and scholars who are beyond their
academic level. On one hand it can provide
a kind of prosperity and intellectual
richness, and through these relationships,
individuals may have an opportunity to
know various levels of science and research
and on the other hand, the same narrow
mind set disappears (p. 9)
Understanding the top
Improving the attitude
and scope of vision
An example of coding
the narratives of
(2) Recounting memories in academic discussions with students and colleagues;
(3) Delivering sabbatical leave experiences as lectures to students and colleagues;
(4) Emphasizing the benefits of collaborative research through encouraging the students
to conduct collaborative projects.
Another faculty member mentioned his experience:
In my opinion when somebody does something for a regular and consecutive period of five or six
years he/she gets overly tired and needs some fresh air. It’s exactly here that I can call it as a breath of
fresh air that a person needs when he/she travels and observes new things to recuperate like a hard
drive, which should be formatted every time (p. 23).
Another faculty member also recalled his experience:“A person moves from one’s own society
to another society that is different in terms of management, content and culture. It is an
experience that changes your attitudes. We find differences during the period”(p. 25).
The faculty members also presented their experiences in their subsequent professional
encounters and practice. For example, they cared about being on-time to attend their
workplace to peruse their activities, and they always attended their classes timely. In doing
so, they could remind the importance of discipline, originality and innovation to their
students. In their relationships with colleagues, they also tried to represent these values.
Furthermore, some of them were displaying images of research papers or cards received
during the leave, and sometimes even used English words in their conversations. Some
faculty members also said that, on returning from sabbatical leave, they now believed that
education should create sufficient enthusiasm in the students to attend classes. One of the
faculty members mentioned that: “I always allocate the final half-hour of the class to free
discussions and emphasize students’discussion as a factor in fostering the power of criticism
RQ2. What challenges do faculty members face by during sabbatical leave and how do
they adapt themselves to these challenges?
An analysis of the interview data showed the challenges and problems faced by
faculty members to be in the form of intraorganizational challenges, including the
(1) Bureaucratic process, inadequate financial support and extra-organizational
(2) Visa problems and lack of hard currency accounts.
A faculty member from the University of Kurdistan discussed his sabbatical leave
problems as follows:
Administrative processes sometimes demotivateus. One of my problems was getting permission and
visa and another one was that there was no currency account because we do not have thisaccount in
Iran, hence I had to carry a lot of money on me and I was always worried about the loss of my money
Another faculty member described his challenges:
I had difficulty in getting a visa and I had problems with the costs. The expenses were high and I
could not afford them because the budget provided by the university was very low. There were also
administrative problems and the process of approving the sabbatical leave application took a lot of
long time (p. 22).
Faculty members were able to reduce some of the intraorganizational challenges of sabbatical
leave by using their own personal finances along with other supports from the university. They
alsoreported that theycould cope with thesechallenges through someother means suchasrenting
smaller houses in cheaper areas, and sometimes by receiving grants from the host university. The
findings revealed that faculty members had faced very similar intraorganizational challenges,
despite their differences in academic standing, and this may be because of this fact that sabbatical
leave applications and financial support for sabbatical leave are administered and processed
centrally. Nevertheless, universities are less effective in solving these problems themselves and
leave faculty members alone to resolve their problems by themselves. However, the extra-
organizational challenges were among the most overwhelming challenges due to extensive of
Iranian’s international relations with other countries. These circumstances make the higher
education system unable to solve or overcome such challenges.
RQ3. What are the outcomes/results and advantages of sabbatical leave from the perspective
of faculty members on their professional development and their personal life?
A variety of sabbatical leave consequences that were identified included: lifestyle changes;
professional growth, and enhancement of organizational climate of university management.
According to Holloway and Wheeler (2002) in a narrative analysis process, the researcher
should organize the data elements in a coordinated and evolutionary manner. As a result, the
outcomes of faculty members’experiences are identified into three areas of individual,
organisational and professional consequences.
is indicated in the form of improving social skills, longing for lifelong learning and improving
citizenship behaviors and social responsibility. Sabbatical leave provides opportunities for
faculty members to work professionally in a different context and by being in a different culture
and environment the different aspects of their social lives couldbe influenced by this experience.
After experiencing the sabbatical leave faculty members reported that, they had improved
their communication communicating and interaction skills and these experiences had also
influenced their families. For example, faculty members mentioned that their children showed
more interest in scientific and sports activities, and attended school in a developed country,
where their motivation for learning especially in the English language developed. They also
reported that, their children’s social communication skills improved.
Some faculty members also stated that the experience allowed them not only to update
their professional knowledge in different ways but also to learn how to update their
knowledge and to use these methods to keep their information up-to-date.
Regarding the outcomes and advantages of sabbatical leave, a faculty member described
In developedcountries, in additionto science, other aspectsof life such as family and sport activitiesare
considered significantly. In such a system an individual can learn to be honest in his/her work
unconsciously and respect the rules and regulations more carefully. For example, in Spain you can
barely see a pedestrian crossthe red light,which is one of the things that may affect individuals (p. 22).
One of the faculty members also recalled his sabbatical experience:
My communications are much better now. I used to do research alone, but now I’m more committed to
teamwork, even sometimes I give my students co-operative dissertations. In Japan I observed that
the professors and students did not use mobiles in the educational environment at all, and I shared
this idea with my colleagues and my colleagues were trying to apply it (p. 5).
In addition, a faculty member, described his experience:“This experience has changed my
communications and now I know tohow to deal with issues and solve problems and in this
regard I feel that I have improved more”(p. 20).
Sabbatical leaves can provide faculty members with the opportunity to develop and
improve their skills and provide them with a context to improve their skills. This can
ultimately improve the performance of the university. As a result, the professional growth of
the faculty members can be categorized into the following concepts:
(1) Reduced burnout: Participants stated that they had a sense of vitality and liveliness
through this experience and sometimes stayed away from their normal workplace.
These experiences could help faculty members to feel more effective in the university.
One of the faculty members asserted his sabbatical experience:“Sabbatical leave for me was
an opportunity to relax, and a leisure time for me to stay away from work and I could both
study and rest. In fact, it was an opportunity for scientific and life experience”(p. 18).
(2) Promotion of scientific outputs: Scientific output refers to the teaching and research
activities of faculty members. The study indicated that the experiences of sabbatical
leave and the relationship between senior researchers and the experience of advanced
universities can be an opportunity for faculty members to become familiar with other
techniques and methods of research. In turn, this experience has improved their own
research capability and quality as a researcher.
A faculty member mentioned this experience:
Before I could go to sabbatical leave, I could hardly do research work and I always had stress
whether I could finish my research. But later, after returning from sabbatical leave, I had improved
progress in doing research work and I could do my research better. Now I have no problem and stress
in conducting research projects (p. 21).
Moreover, a faculty member referred to the implications of his experience:
I did not know that it was really possible to use water as a substitute for fuel, such as gasoline. In the
United States, this was being investigated as a team project, and I closely interacted with that team.
Each member had a specific responsibility in this group. This experience had a great effect on my
professional development since I have come back and now I think that doing even one little thing can
contribute to the development of the world (p. 3).
(3) Improving study methods
Participants believed that through these experiences and by observing different study styles
in other countries, they were able to become familiar with better and more useful study
methods and to change their perceptions of the study. Hence, they asserted that the quality of
study is preferable to its quantity.
In this regard, one of the faculty members from the University of Kurdistan portrayed his
experience at the University of Munich in Germany:
One of the priorities in this university is to always consider quality; even studying with high quantity
but uselessly and ineffectively is not worthwhile and from their perspective, study should be useful
and practical; and now I try to consider this feature in my professional life (p. 15).
(4) Improving student counseling techniques
Student guidance is one dimension of communication between faculty members and
students. Some faculty members discussed that through these experiences, their views
regarding faculty members and students’status and communication changed. Based on the
findings of the study, one of the results of sabbatical leave was that the organizational climate
of the university was developed. Because it seems that by undertaking the sabbatical leave,
faculty members could participate in scientific and disciplinary associations and
collaborations, and in turn this experience could be subsequently applied by them at their
An organizational outcome of the sabbatical leave experience can be classified
thematically as follows:
(1) Improving Academic Standards of the University
Academic Standards refers to factors such as having scientific endeavor, originality in
research, teamwork and innovation, and taking risk through internationalization. Sabbatical
leave can be a way through which achievements of other advanced universities can be
One of the faculty members declared the implications of his sabbatical leave:
If sabbatical leave becomes serious, it does not let the level of university to be lowered because we
now have about three hundred faculty members. If each year thirty of them apply for sabbatical
leave, they can go to different countries and at least arrive in thirty institutes. In this case, about
twenty or thirty effective strong papers can be published (p. 19).
(2) Increasing international communications
Universities can use these opportunities as a way for developing educational and research
collaboration with advanced universities and establishing international connections. Some of
the faculty members stated that now they are teaching at a university where they attended
before for their sabbatical leave. Therefore, the university can connect with other universities
through these faculty members and engage in trans-regional higher education
One of the faculty members described his sabbatical experience:
In one of my articles I wrote that the article was conducted in collaboration with the university where
I stayed. When the observed this paragraph, they became highly pleased and said thatit’s an honor
for us that our university has obtained an opportunity to publish articles collaboratively with the
best research centers in the world (p. 13).
Discussion and conclusion
The present study investigated the narratives of faculty members who had the experience of
the sabbatical leave. A sabbatical leave can be a part of a process which enables the
production and exchange of academic knowledge across the globe (TaghePoorzahir and
SafaeiFakhr, 2011). The network of extracted themes from the narratives is depicted in
The six themes shown in Figure 1 are: scientific desire, lifestyle change, promotion of
university’s organizational climate, professional growth, intraorganizational challenges and
extra-organizational challenges. This study demonstrated that a sabbatical leave could have
broader effects on different levels of professional development, both individually and
organizationally. In addition, it was indicated that sabbatical leave could have the potential to
influence and impact on social and family aspects. For example, one faculty member
explained that the experience helped his family to become familiar with the cultures and
traditions of a different country while he could also introduce his own culture and religion to
the families in the host country. Some participants stated that they still keep their connections
they made during sabbatical leave and these relationships have had a positive impact on
The analyses showed that faculty members considered their sabbatical leave as an
opportunity to satisfy academic aspirations in the form of learning components of new
achievements, mental revival, academic revitalization and different lifestyles.
Faculty members with different experiences in diverse countries and universities, and
different perceptions of these experiences, conceptualized sabbatical leave and expressed
their satisfaction by transferring their meanings and values. Moreover, they stated that in the
future they would definitely be required to use the sabbatical leave, even if they cannot apply
their experiences at their own universities. This idea corresponds to the results of the study
conducted by Carr and Tang (2005) which showed that faculty members were more
committed to their work after experiencing sabbatical leave and were more interested in their
profession and field.
Faculty members maintain that during these experiences they were able to achieve what
they needed and update themselves. This up-to-date knowledge would allow them to help
their students better in particular and assist their own universities in general.
This could be observed in faculty interactions and behaviors. These faculty members had
many interpersonal interactions and, as far as they could, helped students with specific
research and scientific issues. Faculty members referred to these factors as various keys of
The research findings also revealed the challenges that faculty members faced in the
form of internal organizational factors such as administrative bureaucracy, inadequate
financial support and external organizational factors, e.g. problems with obtaining visas
and lack of currency accounts. In addition, the analysis showed that the faculty members
considered administrative bureaucracy and inadequate financial support as major
challenges within the university. A number of participants also asserted that they were
deprived of research grants because of going to sabbatical leave that confirms Dehnavieh
et al. (2015) and Sharifzadeh and Abdollahzadeh (2011) findings which considers the
challenges of sabbatical leave as unintended challenges such as financial problems and
lengthy administrative procedures.
It seems that increasing financial support at ministry level can be helpful in this regard by
prioritizing communication with advanced universities. Moreover, some changes in the
centralized structures to examine the applications of faculty members for sabbatical leave
may be necessary to facilitate the administrative procedures. It was also indicated that, the
Network of themes
extracted from the
problems of obtaining visas and the absence of foreign exchange accounts were other
challenges faced by faculty member that in turn is because of Iran’s political status with other
Furthermore, lack of proficiency in English was reported as a problem for some
participants. Universities can solve this problem by offering extensive language and
conversation courses for all faculty members applying for sabbatical leave.
The implications of faculty members’experiences were assessed at three levels including:
individual, professional and organizational that supports the findings of Sharifzadeh and
Abdollahzadeh (2011) and Yarmahammadian et al. (2018), referring to organizational,
professional, family and individual experiences and outcomes.
At the individual level, one theme was lifestyle change which emphasized concepts such as
the improvement of social skills, the desire for lifelong learning, social responsibility and the
development of citizenship behaviors. It seems that the individual benefits of sabbatical leave
were hidden and unconscious for the faculty members because before they went to sabbatical
leave they had not imagined attaining such outcomes.
A number of faculty members stated that, on their return from sabbatical leave, there were
some unconscious changes in their interactions and their academic and work activities. These
experiences were common among all the faculty members, regardless of their different fields
The second theme was professional growth which covers components such as reducing
burnout, improving academic outcomes, improving study methods and improving student
Reducing job burnout can be achieved in part by leaving the usual workplace and gaining
energy by experiencing a new environment. Indeed, the professors asserted that they were
able to do their best research work during their sabbatical leave. Furthermore, faculty
members were exposed to different and arguably better studies and research techniques
which they could subsequently share with their students. Moreover, exposure to different
methods of communication and interaction with students helped faculty members to become
better in guiding and counseling their own students.
The findings of this study confirm those of Sima and Denton (1995) in which sabbatical
leave was seen as an important factor which plays a role in some areas, including writing
books or research papers, improving teaching and developing courses and curricula. The
study indicated that professional achievements of faculty members in the fields of math,
chemistry and agriculture were found to be more than other fields. This could be due, in part,
to the experimental nature of these disciplines. These faculty members reported a greater
need for such experiences as they acknowledged that the nature of their discipline is
constantly evolving. It was also shown that, sabbatical leave enabled them to gain
experiences and insights which they could never achieve at their home universities. However,
a number of participants (especially in the field of math and chemistry) complained about lack
of facilities at their own university and a resistance by the university to provide such
facilities. The opportunity to implement those skills gained during sabbatical leave was,
therefore, limited. Thus, the requisite infrastructure and conditions, and a reasonable budget
are essential if more advanced laboratories and a more innovative approach to experiments
may be implemented back at the home university. Wallin and Smith (2005) state that granting
sabbatical leave and sponsoring faculty members also involves empowering them to
introduce and implement new initiatives and innovations upon their return, thus respecting
and appreciating the need for technology transfer in the light of experience can be gained.
Two further organizational implications arising from the participants’experience of
sabbatical leave were the potential for an enhancement of the home university’s academic
index and the status of its international collaborations and connections. As a result, the
university’s organizational climate along with the quality of teaching and research within the
institute can be strengthened. In addition, it is not only an individual faculty member’s
performance that can be enhanced but also, the scope of the university’s trans-regional
communication can be extended through the exchange of faculty members and students and
by engaging in collaborative projects with universities in other countries.
The findings of this study indicated that opportunities for faculty members to engage in
sabbatical leave can be an effective form of institutional improvement and a communication
strategy for the university. Moreover, it was demonstrated that the quality of improvement
resulting from sabbatical leave may depend on a greater or lesser extent of the ability and
motivation of the faculty members engaging in the process. Analysis of the interview data
showed that some faculty members’experience of sabbatical leave had no impact on the
university because the members were merely seeking an opportunity for a higher pay or an
improvement in their CV. This could be due, in part, to an overemphasis of universities on the
“work”element of sabbatical leave to the exclusion of its potential for wider improvement
It is necessary to pay attention to the specific criteria such academic background, age and
rank of faculty members to agree with the application for sabbatical leave. In summary, the
experience of sabbatical leave appears to have influenced on faculty members in terms of
professional development and changes in their lifestyle.
After completing their sabbatical leave, the faculty members could observe that their
perspectives on how to perform certain professional practices –such as teaching and
research –have changed. Moreover, faculty members asserted that after this experience, they
tried to communicate more with their students and colleagues, to provide them with their
newly acquired knowledge. This can develop their levels of learning and perhaps even
improve students’interest in learning. For example, after observing the faculty members
employing the techniques they acquired during their sabbatical leave, some students enjoyed
the experience so that they decided to follow these courses. Such a transfer of experience may
contribute to creation of a positive learning culture and, more generally the development of
The faculty members’narratives revealed that the experience of sabbatical leave caused
fundamental changes in their professional and personal lives in two main ways:
(1) Significant changes in personal lifestyle and attitudes. For example, it was shown
that faculty members set a long-term plan for themselves and their family members
and their willingness to invest and work for their children in foreign countries
increased. Moreover, they felt more responsible in the social sphere and they had
more positive interactions with members of the community. On the other hand, it
appears that gender-, ethnic- or religious-based prejudices decreased and a particular
style of dressing up, caring about reading books, saving energy and natural resources
were among their new habits
(2) A tendency toward team formation and teamwork in the disciplinary field and the
wider academic community. It was shown that, the narrators were encouraged to
engage creatively and innovatively and to take risks and think globally. Moreover,
they tried to extend the international scope of their work and they supported weaker
students and colleagues, especially those who completed all their education within the
home country. Furthermore, it was shown that they made scientific connections with
foreign universities. Besides, focusing on their core areas of expertise, they also
considered the significance of interdisciplinary work. In the area of academic
publications, their focus was also on quality rather than quantity; and there was also
a shift toward publishing in foreign languages. Other implications and achievements
resulted from the study include: planning for retirement, being aware of new research
fields, aiming to reduce the teaching workload, participating and using open class
practices and altering the way of evaluation, testing and grading.
The faculty members’narratives illustrated that they were no longer the same academics as
they used to be; they had new intellectual, scientific and academic values that could aid the
efficiency and effectiveness of their universities more generally and could help the reduce of
the costs, wastage and duplication in many areas.
Sabbatical leave can help create a more academic culture by providing a more favorable
working and study atmosphere for faculty members, administrative staff members and
students equally. Although in the study most of faculty members were involved in the field of
STEM, analyzing and reflecting on these experiences can be effective in encouraging other
faculty members with diverse specialties to benefit from these experiences.
One of the interesting implications of the results of this study is that since most faculty
members who have used the sabbatical leave have either sent their children abroad or are
planning and trying to have them continue their education and stay abroad, it seems that the
competition  is not about sabbatical, but about finding an opportunity to enjoy better life
abroad. In fact, sabbatical leave is finding opportunities for a better life, work and education
for faculty members themselves and their families rather than opportunities for studying,
learning and professional development. This means that basically they are using the
opportunity to find a new suitable place for possible employment, postretirement life or a
place to invest financially in prosperous and developed countries.
Another interesting implication of the present study is that the sabbatical leave for the
humanities and social sciences fields are not of high priority. As can be seen from the
statistics provided in Iran and the groups of participants who have used the sabbatical
leave, the contribution of faculty members in the field of humanities and social sciences is
low. There are several reasons for that: the main reason is that the Islamic Republic of Iran
has not taken the humanities field into account from the beginning, and by arguing that
humanities fields are Western sciences, it has been trying to Islamize universities and
humanities fields. In discussing the sabbatical leave study opportunities, the Ministry of
Science and the Universities are also more inclined to support the sabbatical leave in STEM
due to the overwhelming influence of managers in the field. The ideological reason for this is
that some experts in the field believe that sending students and faculty members of
humanities field to Western countries and providing them with sabbatical leave
opportunities may lead to their Westernization and may cause the penetration of Western
culture into universities. One of the goals of the plan to “Islamize universities”in Iran was to
Islamize the humanities field.
Given the low percentage of women working at state universities, it is expected that their
use of the sabbatical leave is much lower. Although no scientific study has been conducted in
Iran about using or limited using of sabbatical leave opportunity by women in Iran, it seems
that in addition to the common problems between both males and females for using
sabbatical leave, cultural issues, the policies related to the MSRT for sending females to
foreign countries and the females’extra attention to strengthening their family and taking
care of their kids have resulted in some kind of self-sacrificing by female faculty members and
their reluctance in using this means of professional development. For example, in the Article
13 of the Scholarships and Student Dispatch Regulations to Foreign Countries, mentioned in
the rules and regulations related to the Iranian Students Affairs Organization (1989), it has
been stated that the dispatch of females applying for scholarship is done provided that they
are married and are in the care of their spouse (p. 591). Therefore, they simply agree to use
short-term internal sabbatical leave or to attend local conferences. It is obvious that these
rules impose restrictions on not only single faculty female members but also on the
Some complexities regarding how to access sabbaticals and the relationship between
variables such as gender, field of study, employment background and academic rank,
economic status of universities and better commercialization of the achievements of some
fields that were extracted from interviewees’narratives suggest that using sabbaticals by
and their access to managerial positions in universities. Therefore, due to the reduction of
the value of Iranian Rial in comparison to foreign currencies such as USA $, it is suggested
to provide incentive plans to other academic fields, including the humanities and
specifically the female faculty members. For example, those who use sabbaticals and return
to university, can be provided with financial rewards such as annual rank promotion, job
benefits such as facilitation in promotion and administrative positions. Also it is suggested
to share sabbaticals equally among all faculty members in diverse academic fields, different
genders and novice and veteran faculty members to create an equal opportunity for all
Given the findings of this study, some suggestions are offered to improve the sabbatical
leave experience in higher education, including:
(1) Special attention by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology to sabbatical
leave and international communication at the universities with increased financial
(2) Decentralization of the administrative process in response to faculty members’
(3) Creating infrastructures and allocating funds to improve university conditions
applying new experiences gained by faculty members.
(4) Given the applicability of the present study and the importance of the impact and role
that universities may have in providing these opportunities and building the
infrastructure for applying these experiences, the role of universities in this process
should be further emphasized.
The limitations of the study are presented as follows:
(1) The differences of faculty members’experiences based on academic disciplines and
countries in which they spent their sabbatical period were not examined.
(2) The potential impact of faculty members on destination universities was not
(3) Lack of female faculty members was another limitation of the study which, as stated
in the introduction section, due to the lack of female in the sabbatical leaves; the
research did not include female faculty members.
(4) Unfortunately, the researchers personally visited MSRT and did follow-ups but
unfortunately there were no cumulative and accurate statistics on the number of
people who used sabbaticals in the last decades. Of course, it is worth mentioning that
some faculty members in the fields of Persian Language, Iranian Studies or fields
related to religious studies are sent oversea on educational missions to promote
Persian language and religion. Apart from this, there are currently no specific
programs for sabbaticals in the humanities, social sciences and arts. No coherent and
comprehensive research, specifically qualitative research, has been conducted about
sabbaticals in Iran. It is suggested that other researchers investigate the subject of
sabbatical from different perspectives and with a critical paradigm. These limitations
should be addressed in future research.
1. According to the regulations of the MSRT of Iran, only 5% of faculty members in each university can
use sabbaticals every year. Due to this limitation, sometimes there is an intense competition for using
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Duration of interview:
(1) Please introduce yourself and tell me in what field and college you have been working?
(2) In your opinion what does the term “sabbatical leave”mean? What personal information or
experiences do you have about this phenomenon?
(3) When you hear the word “sabbatical leave”what does reflect in your mind?
(4) As far as I know, it seems that you have used a sabbatical leave. Can you tell me in which year
of your work at university you had this experience? Please provide us with the details? Please
specify which country and which university did you go to and why did you go there? Please
describe the physical space and scientific opportunity of that university?
(5) What was your goal of going to a “sabbatical leave”? What did encourage you to go to this
period that leave?
(6) What role has the “sabbatical leave”experience played in your career? Can you give an
(7) Has it influenced your personal life? How and why? Can you give some examples?
(8) What challenges did you face in the “sabbatical leave”process?
(9) Have you changed your relationship with colleagues and students around the “sabbatical
leave”? Please give me an example?
(10) What role has the experience of the “sabbatical leave”played in your academic identity and
your academic culture? Please give me an example.
Naser Shirbagi can be contacted at: email@example.com
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