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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: As a Sabbatical Ends

Valuable time.

May 26, 2016

In Economics, it is generally the case that “supply curves” slope upwards; the higher a price for a good, the more firms will want to sell of that good. This shape extends, in part, to the shape of a supply curve for labor, with one possible caveat. As people earn more income, they purchase more of all goods, including the good “leisure.” Since leisure is “purchased” by not working (and therefore giving up income,) theory implies that it may be the case that as income increases some will choose to purchase more leisure and to work less, causing the supply curve to first slope up and then to turn backwards. I found myself thinking of this recently as I realized that my recent sabbatical is officially coming to an end. However, while enjoyable, the semester was, definitely, not exactly “leisure.”

This is the third semester of sabbatical leave I have had the privilege to take in my academic career, which has now spans over twenty six years. This sabbatical was spent working on revisions to a textbook on a specialized sub-field of Economics, the Economics of Nonprofit Organizations. The time was enjoyable, but definitely not what most people think of when they hear the word “leisure.” Rather, this was a very productive and exciting time to take a step away from teaching and nurture the creative part of my brain. As I reflect on the time away, I realize that this sabbatical was unique in several ways.

This was the sabbatical when I my efforts to stay healthy without going to a gym led me to walk back and forth (and back and forth again) in front of television news programs for at least one hour a day. As this was also a political season, that effort caused me to learn more about the nastiness of the political process than I ever cared to know. I am once again happy that my youthful dream of pursuing a career in politics was diverted by graduate school. 

This was the sabbatical when I finally learned what I needed to know about Game Theory, in order to incorporate it into the revised text. As I did this, I began to see the world through this new perspective, and found ways to apply it to the daily news I was seeing. How do you stop political candidates who seemed unstoppable? Some proposed looking to game theory. How do you make lines in airports move more quickly while still maintaining the safety of those flying? Perhaps game theory has ideas. And, would the local professional basketball team benefit by being a “first mover” in choosing whether to play their big or their small team members? Again, game theory has an idea on this matter. Once the text book is finished being revised, I plan on creating a whole class on the subject.

This was the sabbatical when I was able to use the unstructured time to schedule a vacation to Disney World that matched with my daughter’s spring break. She enjoyed the experience, and has been heard asking “where can we go next year?” Alas, it is usually the case that my spring break does not fall when hers does, so it may be many years until we can vacation together again during the school year. Meanwhile, she keeps coming up with new places she wants to travel to, only some that are realistic.

This was the sabbatical when an old pipe broke and flooded my family room, forcing me to move my computer to a table in the living room. Recently, a colleague suggested that I purchase the book we were discussing. “For your library” were the words he used. Oh, that would be the library that was underwater at the time! 

As I grow sad at the end of the time away, I realize that such time to devote to thinking is a rare luxury that most people do not have. I think of my hard working parents and my relatives who spent their lives lifting and moving things. What great ideas would they have had to share, had they been able to spend time on a sabbatical? Tragically, the world will never know.



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