As spring break looms I often think about what are graduate student rights when it comes to breaks and vacation. My contract guarantees me with no time off from my mandated 20hrs/week of research which is already somewhat of a joke. I have heard horror stories of students being expected to work through Christmas and major holidays due to an advisor not allowing them to take time off and I wonder, why aren’t graduate students treated like real employees in addition to students? Surely this idea isn’t novel but there should be university policy guaranteeing graduate students with rights.
This ties into my continued worries of the lack of breaks in academia but the expectation that graduate school is not a typical job seems fraught with flaws. You should not be expected to postpone all life, financial, and mental health goals in order to get a PhD. Academia cannot be this toxic to its lowest denominator. I wish my lab had a given policy or expectation of allowable vacation days throughout the year, like a job. I understand that sometimes things come up or experiments must run but I feel that is not too different from any job. I know individuals appreciate the freedom that comes with academia but with that freedom comes a double edged sword. You can work whenever you want but the premise is you are always working.
I have heard of graduate students unionizing at other schools to ensure there is fair treatment by supervisors and I have to say, this may seem fair. The main argument against it that I have seen is that the advisor/advisee relationship is very different than that of an employer/employee, but I sometimes wonder, How? Sure their success depends on my success and vice versa but how is that different from any other company? As I sit in the snow and the undergrads talk about their trips to Florida I do think it would be nice to at least know I was allowed to take time throughout the year without a constant approval system that leads you worrying if your employer thinks you are taking too much time off.
Happy Spring Break!