This is a question somewhat related to another question about advisors on sabbatical.

I started what I thought would be my final semester of my PhD (applied math) in January. I have already passed quals and finished my proposal for candidacy without issue. (So I'm not reaching to say that I could/should be in my final semester).

However, in December of last year, my advisor suddenly informed me that he has decided to go on sabbatical (1 year) 800 miles away. He did not offer to take me with him or anything.

In the meantime, I'm stuck trying to grind out the last chapter of my dissertation. He'll call about once a week to check in on my progress. Emails outside of then have pretty much gone unanswered; his one reply was a terse "Thanks, I'll start looking at this.". He has told me outright that the papers "we" (meaning I write them and develop them, he edits them) are working on are his only work right now.

I am not aware of all the minutia of how sabbaticals are approved at my university, but it seems like a sabbatical to just work a few hours a day while sipping coconut milk is not in keeping with the purpose of the sabbatical.

Overall, my advisor hand waves all of this by just saying that he will pay me an RA-ship this summer if I can't graduate by spring, as if some pittance of money can buy me off. I would of course like to obtain a real job at some point. I have an offer on the table for a full time position, but it relies on me being able to finish by May or so.

I understand that I may not know the whole story. There could be undisclosed health issues, family issues, mental issues, etc..


  1. Is it normal for a PhD advisor to leave on sabbatical in a student's final semester?

  2. Is there anything a PhD student can do about their supervisor going on sabbatical during the student's final semester?

closed as too broad by Vladhagen, Nat, scaaahu, nengel, user3209815 Feb 19 '18 at 7:56

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    What's the problem? Do you need his presence to finish your dissertation? In your final semester, you should be pretty independent and it sounds like you are. (My advisor was on sabbatical over 7000 miles away during my final year. I didn't have any problem with that.) – Thomas Feb 14 '18 at 23:11
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    This question would be better without the angry jealously over the nice weather where he happens to be. – Azor Ahai Feb 14 '18 at 23:43
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    Does your adviser know that you have a job offer that requires you to finish by May? Can the adviser's sabbatical get your future employer to loosen that requirement? – Andreas Blass Feb 14 '18 at 23:45
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    Professors are people too. Given the opportunity to take a relaxed sabbatical under some palm trees after a few years of grind, wouldn't you grab it with both hands (assuming that you could make suitable arrangements with family and supervisees?). Actually I think this is a wonderful sort of sabbatical. After you get bored with the palm trees, you might just resort to thinking about things ... – badroit Feb 14 '18 at 23:58
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    Voting closed as unclear-what-you're asking 'til @Thomas's question's answered. As it was originally written, this sounded like more of an angry rant than a real question. I edited out some of the more rant-ish parts, but it's still unclear exactly what the problem here is. – Nat Feb 15 '18 at 0:50

I don't really understand what the problem is, but there are three clear-enough questions in here that I can answer:

What can a PhD candidate do if their advisor leaves on sabbatical without warning? Keep doing what you're supposed to be doing -- do research, write papers, give and attend talks, network, write up a thesis, and graduate. These things should not be contingent on your advisor being around.

Is it normal for a PhD advisor to leave on sabbatical in a student's final semester? Yes. Professors go on sabbatical and they will always have students in various stages of their studies. My advisor went on sabbatical in my second and again in my last year. (Yes, my PhD was that long.) It wasn't a problem.

Is there anything a PhD student can do about their supervisor going on sabbatical during the student's final semester? Ask if you can come along? (I did that the first time, but not the second.) Again, I don't really see what the problem is that you want something done about. It's simply not reasonable for you to insist that he stays for your sake -- you should be independent enough to not need his continual physical presence.

There is a fourth issue here: using a sabbatical as a vacation This is indeed a bit unusual, but not unheard of. I think it's more common for professors to take a sabbatical at a university that "coincidentally" is in a very nice location, rather than have no institutional home during that time. Ultimately, professors get a lot of leeway in terms of what they do on sabbatical. As long as he does research, I don't think anyone cares where or how he did it.


Professor on sabbatical with student(s) finishing dissertations. Fairly normal in my experience.

Professor using sabbatical leave as a vacation. Not normal in my experience. However, you're not in any position to complain about this. It appears that the leave has been approved by the powers that be, so it's unlikely that a complaint would change the situation.


As in comments and so on... there are two very different issues here. The first is getting your thesis done, the second whether making a sabbatical into a vacation is ok along with whether it is standard practice to "ditch" students.

It is indeed very common to "ditch" students, not at all necessarily consciously maliciously, because there's not at all reliable funding for students at the other location. Nowadays, with the internet (!), this is not necessarily so severe, since communication is still very, very easy.

Is it ok or common to make sabbatical into a "vacation"? Mm, maybe not so much, but/and people needn't choose unpleasant locations for their sabbaticals... especially now that we have the internet. Notions of "relaxing" are legitimate uses of sabbaticals, since feeling refreshed and renewed is essential for good work. (Don't tell the bureaucrats and bean-counters...)

The only really important issue here is that you have (some kind of?) offer already, but that it is (reasonably enough) contingent upon your finishing... in spring? in summer? You should be able to communicate this to your advisor, and stir them/him/her to action at least on this account.

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