5 questions about PhD and vacations

Hello! I’m still on my 2-week long rest period! If you follow me on Instagram, you noticed that this budget travel addict went to one on the most expensive countries in the world, Norway. Makes no sense, right? A lot of posts about this journey will come in September and October and how I did it and still managed to save some money from my travel piggybank for my next travel. But now that my holidays are finishing, let’s talk about how are holidays for us around here, in another Q&A style post. For my previous post about the 5 most common questions I have been asked to about my PhD, go here.

1. How many free days do you have per year?

I am really curious about how is it in your country and even if you’re Portuguese how is it for you! By law, here in Portugal the PhD students with a fellowship from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia have right to up to 22 workdays as rest days (they are not considered holidays). This is similar to the 22 days of vacations per law for regular work contracts. Of course most of the PhD students have flexible work hours and may even have to work on weekends or longer hours in the week, so this restriction to work days becomes a bit volatile.

2. Does your supervisor play a role in the number of free days you have?

Of course the days you are going to be off work have to be agreed between the student and the supervisor. Some supervisors may be more restrictive with this but generally, from my experience, there is a good flexibility. However, I always try to have a part of my rest days when my supervisors are in holidays. By law, the supervisor cannot restrict the total number of workdays that the student wishes to be off work to a lower number than 22, given that it is the will of the student. Of course you can always choose to enjoy less days than the 22 (or whatever in your contract), but it’s a right that was given and I believe it should be enjoyed. Come on, I love to travel as you should know by now.

3. Is there any restrictive period to have rest days?

Nowadays most Universities technically close here in Portugal in August, either for the full month or only in the first two weeks, since it’s the strong vacation season. If you wish to not enjoy your holidays during the period when the university/research institute is closed, you can either go to the lab if there is some authorization to have it functioning (for instance, there was no problem at all with me working in my office computer since it was authorized by the group leader), or if it’s not possible, there’s the chance to work from home and catch up on writing, programming or whatever skill set you want to acquire through online courses. Some people are really put off by the fact that campuses here do not even offer air conditioning during August and make this their holidays regardless.

4. Could you have more rest workdays than the ones that my contract states?

The contract says up to 22 work days, but in practice you can have more. Of course it’s a good idea to talk about this with your supervisor but generally since most worktimes are flexible and it’s common to do longer hours somedays or to work on weekends, it makes a lot of sense to take off more work days. And if the supervisor is flexible and there is a good trust relationship, he/she will not care much how many off days you will take, as long as you fulfill the goals of your work in the predicted times and with good quality and integrity. Especially if you work from home or in a library as it is common in fields like social or computer science.

5. What about you? How many rest days do you take per year?

I’m in the field of mathematical modeling so I like to keep count. So, in this way, I aim to take off the exact 22 days. So far, since I have gotten paid research fellowships, I didn’t feel the need to take less than these days or more, but when I was writing my MSc thesis delays with experiments and an absolute lack of writing until 2 months before the deadline led me to not have any summer holidays that year. I aim not to do this for my PhD thesis so I try to be productive to not sacrifice my beloved travel time! By the beginning of September 2016, I have already enjoyed 16 days off. My next planned off week will be the WebSummit Lisbon week, where I will be a volunteer and I also will have a wildcard day. Generally my rule is: 10 days in August (which I generally spend in Portugal), one week in May or June to travel abroad and the week between Christmas and NYE. This year as you see it’s a bit different (I have taken some sparse days off in January, May and July), but what matters the most is to find the best times of the year that will have you rested and not losing important periods and deadlines of your work.

What about you? Do you have flexible rest days? How many do you generally take? Let me know in the comments! And hope you enjoy those days guilt-free =D


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