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At the end of a recent lengthy meeting with my supervisor, in preparation for my end of year GRC (Graduate Research Committee) meeting, I asked about if I would be able to contact them during the summer holiday period in relation to my research.

Background is that I am a History Masters research student and as I'm completing it part-time I'll be doing as much work during the summer months (maybe even more as one of my major visits to archives is during this period) as during the academic year.

My supervisor was open to me emailing him during the summer and submitting any written work I may have completed. As it was we were finishing the meeting we did not elaborate on exact details. In my own case this will suffice as I am working on my project on my own with my supervisor.

While I just asked if I could keep in contact with my supervisor and that's probably the best thing to do in most cases, I am interested is it reasonable to request that you can have access to an advisor/supervisor during summer time (either by email or face to face)?

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I'm not entirely clear on what the specific question is. In particular, I don't understand "While I just asked if I asked if I could keep in contact with my supervisor and that's probably the best thing to do in most cases, I am interested was this a reasonable request?" Are you asking whether it would be reasonable to ask for face-to-face contact during summer, over and beyond email? –  Stephan Kolassa May 23 '14 at 10:07
@StephanKolassa Thanks for input, I have tried to edit question to clarify. I was thinking about any type of contact when writing the question but I presume there is a different level of commitment needed for face to face time. –  gman May 23 '14 at 10:13
Every advisor is different, and it's always reasonable to request to meet your advisor. It's up to him/her to accept or deny that request. –  user102 May 23 '14 at 10:25
@bingung wow, that is hard. In some countries even PhD students are entitled to more than one month of paid vacations! –  Davidmh May 23 '14 at 12:40
@bingung: See Peter Jansson's answer. In many cases, professors are not actually employed by the university during the summer. –  Nate Eldredge May 23 '14 at 13:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Supervisors are employees just like everyone else. They have duties (to supervise you), and they have vacations and business trips. Both vacations and business trips (conferences, field trips, probably archive work in your line) will be more common during summer. Specifically for academia, many people will use summer to spend more time working from home while they don't have to give lectures, but they may designate certain days when they are in the office, specifically to meet with everyone on a single day.

That said, I see no reason whatsoever why email contact should decrease during summer, of course except for known vacation or trip periods, where everyone can agree that emails may take a little longer to be answered.

Face-to-face contact is also important, but given that many people will spend more time at home, there is a case to be made that you may not meet quite as frequently with your advisor during summer, even after accounting for vacations/trips.

Nevertheless, I see no reason why a request for email contact and (possibly somewhat less frequent) face-to-face meetings should be unreasonable. It would of course be optimal to work out a schedule before summer, taking vacations etc. into account. "I'll check in every day with a short email, and I understand if you reply later to email questions. Could we set up at least some face-to-face meetings, perhaps not every week as during the semester, but every other week, except for the week you are at a conference?"

After all, your supervisor will be just as interested in hearing from you and knowing that you don't spend all of summer at the beach...

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Good point about conferences etc. during the summer. In my own case I am volunteering for a couple of days at a conference where my supervisor is one of the organisers. Probably be chatting to him at that but didn't put it in question as it would not be a formal project meeting. –  gman May 23 '14 at 11:00
Your supervisor will likely have a chock full calendar during that conference, meeting with many people he only sees at conferences. Don't expect him to have a lot of time for chatting with you. And don't take this personally; after all, you two can meet all year long. –  Stephan Kolassa May 23 '14 at 11:02
Good points; we have only have a very general chat about what they want me to do at the conference. Might only be there to make the tea/coffee :-). He hopes we make some introductions with some of the speakers relevant to my field though. –  gman May 23 '14 at 11:12
Sometimes it's a little more complicated than your first paragraph. At US universities, faculty appointments are often for 9 months. At research universities, faculty often have grants to pay for summer appointments as well. But if that's not the case, your supervisor may actually not be an employee during the summer. (However, there's a good chance that, out of professionalism, he will meet with you anyway.) –  Nate Eldredge Aug 22 '14 at 22:21

The question is perhaps not whether to contact or not. You can send mails as much as you want and you may expect variations in the timing of a response. What, IS important is to communicate and organize work so that you optimize the time. There is no point in arranging your own work so that you definitely would need help when you simply cannot get it.

As for what you can expect, some of the answer lies in the employment conditions which will vary between universities and certainly between countries. In some cases university employees are not salaried during summer. In cases they cover this by applying for research money. It is clear that the focus will then be on other things. In other cases payment also cover summer and instead vacation is planned for some of that time. So, you need to know what the system is like in your part of Academia and expectations made up based on that.

In the end, I see it mostly as a communication issue. To just expect without actually finding out is not a good strategy.

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+1 for importance of communication. As far as I know in Ireland salaries are year round. –  gman May 23 '14 at 13:20
At many American universities, we only receive 9 months of salary. We either cover the summer 3 months from our grants or we ask the university to divide the 9 months of salary over 12 calendar months. –  RoboKaren Jul 15 '14 at 3:03

It is our job to be available to our students!

I'll be gone for half the summer, and the half I'm in town I will be working from home. My students shouldn't expect to just look for me in my office and find me, but I will be very receptive to coming in and meeting as long as I am in town, and corresponding by e-mail otherwise. I suspect this scenario is reasonably typical.

"Expect" is a little bit of a dangerous word; I advise you to replace it with "ask for". Take the initiative in requesting meetings, asking questions, and the like. Don't overdo it --- but other people aren't shy about asking for your advisor's attention, I urge you not to be either :) Good luck!

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