Monday, September 22, 2008

Negotiation "Vacation" Time

Making plans for the semester break (also informally known as "Christmas break") can be a tricky business. Graduate students are both students (it's in the title) and employees. Students get non-semester time off; employees get that day or two off when the university is closed.

As as student, especially one who didn't take a "real" job before graduate school, I am accustomed to several weeks at home for the holiday season. I certainly have no compelling reason to be on campus; there are no classes for me to attend or to teach. As an employee, my advisor expects me to be producing research at an increased rate during a period unencumbered with coursework and teaching requirements.

I have had family reasons to be gone for the past three years, but those no longer apply. The student part of me still sees 2.5 weeks at home as a short and entirely reasonable period of time for December/January, but the employee part of me understands it might seem excessive. I've heard from other graduate students that my advisor is does not generally approve of such "excessive" time off.

But, this is the age of computer technology. The only real reason I need to be on campus, in a time when meetings and classes are on complete hold, is for data collection, and my data collection is literally impossible during the holidays when campus is shut down and the population at large is hectic and uninterested in contributing to science. Everything else I need to do simply requires my laptop and, for communication with my group, an Internet connection. This is where going home actually makes more sense.

I do not have Internet at home; the campus bus I usually take will shut down during the winter break; and the "winter" break will almost certainly consist of snow, ice, and below-freezing (possibly below-0) weather not at all conducive to walking to my office. I could stay in the state, but I wouldn't be answering emails more than once a week and I wouldn't be able to do any lit searches. On the other hand, I could go to my father's house, where my productivity would go from business-hours-only to 24/7 high-speed Internet acces. It doesn't matter how many house chores and family events I let take up my time; I would be exponentially more productive in a different state with the world encased in my laptop, than in the home state with myself cocooned away from the snow.

It remains to be seen whether my advisor will buy this. I have no intention of mentioning my travel plans unless the information is specifically requested; it's not as if my advisor can generally tell whether I'm in the state or not, she's on campus so rarely. I can always challenge her to name exactly what it is I need to do over winter break that requires a physical presence on campus.

Besides, it really has the following effect: I have to defend my comps by December 17th, or be late and defend them in the Spring. And then I can go home and recover...

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