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How much time off per year can I roughly expect as a philosophy PhD student in the US?

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Hi everyone!

As my partner and I are doing some life planning at the moment and I am thinking about grad school, I was wondering how much leave I could expect as PhD student in philosophy in the US? To what extent is travelling abroad for a month or more at a time to see family feasible? I suppose this varies from school to school and might depend on what stage one is at (coursework, teaching, dissertation). Any rough estimates or hints would be appreciated though!

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Yes, every department differs.

Over summer, unless you need to teach or work, you can do whatever you want, so that's 2-3 months.

During the school year, while you are taking coursework, you would likely not be able to travel, unless you could justify it as necessary for your research. Missing a month of class doesn't make sense.

While doing prep work for exams, depending on your team, you may be able to do that prep remotely. 

ABD every program is different but that seems like the likeliest time to be able to go somewhere else for a month without anyone batting an eye. 

If you're talking specifically about pregnancy and/or family leave, the schools will have their specific policies posted about that.

I'm at a state school and you get 3 DAYS for bereavement leave of an immediate family member (you get 1 day of leave if not immediate, no matter how close). You get up to 3 quarters or 9 months of family leave but for specific kinds of circumstances only. Parenting leave has its own limits. I wouldn't be too hopeful about provided leave, but in any case you'll need to check the specific school(s) for their leave policies for grad students.

Good luck!

What type of philosophy are you interested in?

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Posted (edited)

Expect to have the flexibility to move your work load around. You call the shots. It is in your hands. No one is going to force you to work 11 months of the year.

How often do you have flexibility to go places over summer? Every year. During semester? Probably ABD (all-but-dissertation).

Financially and professionally, it is wise not to take more than a month off. But you are given freedom. I know grad students who have 4 months per year off (3 mo. in summer, 1 mo. in January). I think it is foolish to do so, but this just tells you that you have a lot of wiggle room if you want to take it.

Some students will say "Don't run the rat race. Take your break as long as you want! It is good for your mental health!"

Sure. You can. And there may be seasons when it is necessary. But lemme say that advice to make it the norm to take months off usually comes from people who end up dropping out before they finish. Why? because they didn't take their work seriously. Lacking excellent work habits. Failing to make and stick to a long-term goal of getting a tenure-track job. They don't work on research or writing over summer or take advantage of the various short breaks to get caught up on work; they just fall further behind. When they realize they have wasted their time and they need to finish major milestones in their PhD, they just drop out. The truth is, for better or worse, you must work significantly harder than average to remain competitive on the market.

But is any department forcing you? No.

A month a year is more than reasonable.

Edited by Duns Eith

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@Duns Eith is certainly right in their assessment, but I read the OP as asking more about the possibility of being in a location other than that of the university rather than taking time off per se. If you have family abroad and don't have teaching obligations or work that requires you to be on campus over the summer it is certainly feasible to spend most of the summer abroad with your family *and continue working*. Even before the current crisis, most advisors are happy to meet with their advisees vie Skype/Zoom, and that will likely be even more true now, and as long as you have internet connection and an environment in which you can work, there's no reason you can't continue to make progress remotely.

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I am straying from my lane long enough to point out that faculty members, especially those sitting on committees, may have expectations on where a graduate student spends his/her time during the summer and that these expectations may be communicated in the subtlest of ways. The nuance can be as ephemeral as a glimmer of a smile in the eyes as a professor says "Enjoy your vacation..."

So while going way off campus may be appropriate (per policy) needed (to clear one's head) and necessary , I recommend that one have a clear understanding of what is allowed and what is expected.

The same professor who is impossible to reach when on campus and is frequently away from campus can look at you if you under perform on a significant task and salt the wound by saying something "Well, I was here all summer...if only you had been here to set up appointments to meet..."

 

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Thanks for all of your messages. 🙂

Yes, sorry, to clarify: I was interested in getting a sense of how much time I could spend away from campus, not necessarily how much time I could expect to spend away from work. My intention would be to see my partner overseas for a few weeks at a time while continuing to work from there. I guess ultimately that depends on the supervisor/department/etc. but thanks for giving me a rough idea!

@jujubea I'm mostly working in logic!

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I'll briefly echo what others have said. At least in my program, several international students intend to spend summers and sometimes winter break abroad with family and that's been welcome, and after classwork even more common (esp. those with partners elsewhere). But as noted above some supervisors are less understanding. Definitely a question to ask at campus visits after being admitted!

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37 minutes ago, Marcus_Aurelius said:

.Definitely a question to ask at campus visits after being admitted!

I recommend that such questions be asked tactfully. While one has a right to get the information one needs to make informed decisions, the tone and timing of a question can send the wrong message.

Questions like: Generally,  what is the pacing for a first and second year student like? Or What kinds of classes are offered during the summer? can serve as a prompt to get others talking about the timing and duration of students' breaks.

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I would suggest when searching for schools to see if they have a residency requirement where you need to physically be at the university for a certain period of time. My PhD program has a 2 year residency requirement (the first two years). After that, it's up to student/advisor to negotiate. There are students in my cohort who moved after the residency requirement was complete and are finishing their program remotely.

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2 hours ago, lleto said:

I would suggest when searching for schools to see if they have a residency requirement where you need to physically be at the university for a certain period of time. My PhD program has a 2 year residency requirement (the first two years). After that, it's up to student/advisor to negotiate. There are students in my cohort who moved after the residency requirement was complete and are finishing their program remotely.

But to @Sigaba's point, there's a difference between what is allowed and what is expected of you. Residency requirements only speak to the former, and may not even be relevant for how one spends summer/semester breaks.

3 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Questions like: Generally,  what is the pacing for a first and second year student like? Or What kinds of classes are offered during the summer? can serve as a prompt to get others talking about the timing and duration of students' breaks.

Agreed. It can be especially usefully to (tactfully) ask about how professors spend their summers ("How often do you typically meet with your advisees during the summer?"). In my program, for instance, a large proportion of professors spend a large portion of the summer out of the area. So if you happen to be working with such professors, it's largely irrelevant whether or not you're in town during the summer. But, in the same program there are professors who certainly will not go out of their way to meet with an student who isn't around to drop by the office, and if your work is deemed subpar, you will be the one held responsible for not maintaining sufficient communication with committee members. In short, departmental culture on this can vary widely and even within departments, different professors will have different (sometimes articulated) expectations.

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9 hours ago, Sigaba said:

I recommend that such questions be asked tactfully. While one has a right to get the information one needs to make informed decisions, the tone and timing of a question can send the wrong message.

Questions like: Generally,  what is the pacing for a first and second year student like? Or What kinds of classes are offered during the summer? can serve as a prompt to get others talking about the timing and duration of students' breaks.

Yes, good point, and I also should've specified that I was thinking about asking current students, not necessarily faculty.

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Hi everyone, thanks for your comments. Yes, I think I'll ask some of the current students first -- good idea! But you've already answered my question. Thanks again! 

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