Friday, August 12, 2016

Students and vacation

I have had the same vacation policy since I started my group at ProdigalU. My students can take 3-4 weeks of vacation per year as they see fit, as long as they remain productive while they are supposed to be working. I do not formally track their vacation time, though I keep the emails with their requests so I have a record if needed. Since starting, I have never had to deny a vacation. When my students are not being as productive as they should, they know it, and don't ask me for much time off. I once had to tell a student that if they planned a long vacation for the holidays, they would need to start being more productive, but other than that, I have found that my students are quite responsible in taking care of it themselves. In fact, I have told my students that they should not work on manuscripts or literature searches while on vacation, since it is supposed to be vacation!

When I was a student, there was a group that was notorious for not being "allowed" to take vacation. The group policy was 2 weeks per year maximum, not during mid-summer or winter break, since grad students were supposed to be in the lab more when classes are not in session. This always struck me as ridiculously stingy and likely to lead to burnout and resentment.

One of my colleagues has a kind of unusual problem--one of his best students is traveling too much. Part of it is conference travel, which also takes time away from the lab. Part of it is the desire for vacations to visit family as well as vacations for time off (since not everyone finds family visits recharging). But it is an odd problem for an ambitious student to have, since slowing down on progress delays finishing the PhD, and ambitious students usually recognize this.


Anonymous said...

I am curious how much is too much time off. Is it judged by actual days off or by productivity?

prodigal academic said...

For me, it is based on productivity. Of course, productivity is linked to actual days in the lab, so they are not truly independent. You have to be in the lab to get work done. The rule of thumb I tell my students is 3-4 weeks of vacation plus 5-10 days for conference(s) is the group norm for travel.

In the case of complicated and time consuming experiments, it can be more about how the time is taken. For example, one long vacation (say 3 weeks) will have less of an impact on productivity than taking those same 3 weeks spread in a 2-3 month period, since having one 5 week working block is better for productivity (at least in the experiments we do) than having several 1-2 week blocks.

xykademiqz said...

I don't have a set policy and generally require that they tell me when they would be gone so I know they are unavailable. So it's not like I allow them to go or not, more of they can plan to go and just let me know. I generally say that they can take 3-day weekends whenever, but that anything that's a week or more I need to be informed that they're away. And that it's best to take time off once we're past a certain deadline/milestone. Also, I have a recommendation for very junior students (the first two years): not to take a lot of time off (several weeks at a time) during the summer after their first two years, because they are often overwhelmed with classes during the academic year and can only get some research done in the summer. I know that international students crave a longer visit home (especially when new) and I recommend they do it (again, just the first couple of years) during the winter break when everything is closed for the holidays and even I take time off. After the first couple of years they are generally productive year-round, and I don't mind them taking time off in the summer or even getting an internship (for the industrially inclined).

On occasion I have had to remark that the person is taking too much time off (a 4 day weekend every two weeks is a bit much). Usually that means the student has some personal turmoil going on (new girlfriend, burnout, etc.) and I don't remark right away, only if it's been going on for a while. But it's always been a temporary, even if protracted, issue, and the student generally self-corrects.

As you say, most students, especially senior ones, are quite conscientious. I think it also has to do with my better ability to recruit serious people now versus me 10 years ago.