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Consider a famous football school in the U.S., for example Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Auburn, and Ohio State.

I am doing a PhD in a STEM field at one of these schools, and on 6 or 7 Saturdays of the semester, there is a home game for the football team, and I'd like to attend the game and be a part of the tradition. It's likely an all-day affair, pre-game, going to the game, and more festivities after the game.

My research advisor isn't into sports — at all. And the expectation is that we're doing work on these Saturdays, while our football stadium nearby is filled with 80,000 or so fans cheering on our team.

Would it be reasonable to ask my advisor for Saturdays off, so that I can participate in our school's football tradition?

How could I go about saying this to him, without upsetting him, or coming off as "unfocused"?

Clarification: Plenty of communication takes place on weekends. My advisor is very intense, micromanages almost, but that style suits me well, and I find his dedication really admirable. But I don't want to miss out on football either; I'm not in graduate school for very long.

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    So is he reasonable enough that you can ask him to not work this one weekend? – user111388 Nov 20 at 7:26
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    Is there a reason he might consider you unfocused other than that you might ask for a day off? (in the weekend...) And are there other PhDs in your research group that want to attend the games? – Jeroen Nov 20 at 7:27
  • Comments are not for extended discussion (nor for answers); this conversation has been moved to chat. Please see this FAQ before posting another comment. – cag51 2 days ago
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    FWIW with covid this fall the stands are empty. Next fall is a long time away. – Ethan Bolker yesterday
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    What is the nature of your Saturday work? I.e., is it work that could just as easily be done at another time, or is the lab full of people who are working in teams? Is he expecting you to be physically in the building, or just reachable by e-mail? – cag51 6 hours ago
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work on PhD, forget football.
You are choosing between your career, as PhD, and entertainment.

I am suprised you think you have that time available, we always did homework over the entire weekend, no parties, no problem.

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user131952 is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    This answer is probably Troll. – user111388 20 hours ago
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    I am concerned that this is the accepted answer. Work-life balance is important, and anyone who cannot take a few Saturdays off is bound for burnout. Yes, a PhD involves both hard work and sacrifice, and there may be times when you do have to work flat out and put everything else on hold. But such times should be exceptional, not the norm. – cag51 8 hours ago
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    @user111388 If there is a trolling post on this page, it probably starts with the question, not this answer. From what I gathered, most US college football game seats are limited this year due to the pandemic. I think the question is probably not for real. – scaaahu 4 hours ago
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    I also notice that both the asker and the OP of this answer are unregistered users. – scaaahu 4 hours ago
  • Could the upvoters please explain? – user111388 1 hour ago
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It’s a tricky situation and you will want to filter any advice given here (including mine offered below) through your own understanding of the details of the situation and the personalities involved.

That being said, my tentative guess as to the best strategy for handling it is to do two things:

  1. Don’t mention to your advisor your football game attendance plans. It’s your private business what you do on weekends. Simply go about your private business as a normal person does. (And for heavens’ sake don’t “ask for Saturdays off”. You don’t ask for what is rightfully yours.*) Any work can wait until after game day festivities are over. You’re a grad student not an indentured servant.

  2. Work hard and be productive and responsive to your advisor during normal work hours/days (including non-game weekend days if you feel like doing work on those days).

If you do the combination of those two things, I suspect (but cannot be certain) you’ll be fine and your advisor will be completely happy with you, perhaps after an initial adjustment period where you might have to deflect some questions from him about why you didn’t answer some email right away on a Saturday. If that happens you can just say you were busy, had an event to go to, or, if sufficient trust has had time to develop between the two of you, simply tell him the truth (but make sure to state this as a statement of fact, not a request for permission or validation, and not stated in an apologetic tone where you volunteer unnecessary details about why you want to attend football games as you sort of did here).

* If this is a problem, I’m sorry to have to tell you but you’re in an abusive relationship and you likely should be expecting much bigger problems in your relationship with your advisor than a conflict over attending football games.

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    This might depend on the field. In some lab intensive situations it might be necessary to cover and monitor experiments 'round the clock. No one should have to work all the time, of course, but "weekends" may not be a meaningful distinction. – Buffy Nov 20 at 13:21
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    @Buffy - sure, but people need 'own' time. Yes, I worked many long hours on weekends tending an accelerator running experiments. But I also went climbing, skiing, or just slept in late and had a lazy day many other times. Or just took a day off during the 'normal work week' to compensate. – Jon Custer Nov 20 at 14:33
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    @JonCuster, yes, of course. Everyone needs reasonable work conditions, even as a student. And it may also be possible to trade off a weekend duty day with someone else. But, again, the research itself may not respect "traditional" weekends. It isn't necessarily like making widgets, which can happen anytime. I think this would be less of an issue in math, say, where the time is easier to schedule. But, you might not get the ability to completely define your own schedule in some fields. – Buffy Nov 20 at 15:10
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    @Buffy - I spent many long weekends tending an accelerator. The 'me' time was just put somewhere else on the schedule. Days of the week were pretty interchangeable as a grad student... – Jon Custer Nov 20 at 15:12
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    @Buffy the characteristics of an abusive adviser-student relationship do not depend on the field. Even in experimental disciplines where there is work that needs to be done over the weekend, a non-abusive adviser will involve their students in the process of scheduling activities and make sure that weekend work is distributed equitably, that students who work weekends get the same number of days off as everyone else, and that students enjoy a reasonable flexibility to attend cultural events in their area. The duty to treat students in such a way is not discipline dependent. – Dan Romik 2 days ago
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Having worked at Penn State I can assure you that no one in their right mind will be anywhere near downtown on game days. The majority of our graduate students went to at least some of the home games and I don't know of anyone who questioned their commitment.

Update

Just to clarify for anyone unfamiliar with "big" football schools - on home game days Penn State's stadium becomes the third biggest city in Pennsylvania (after Pittsburgh and Philadelphia). Fans begin arriving in town on Thursday (parking their RVs in the Walmart lot). By Saturday there isn't any easy way to drive into or out of town due to the amount of traffic generated.

The local paper includes a special route to the hospital (which is next to the stadium) along back roads that the police keep clear of football traffic. If you are pregnant, you get a special number to call to get a police escort if you go into labour.

So home games are a big deal.

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    I had a similar experience at UGA. As a chemist I wasn't even allowed in the building on gameday. If there were an explosion or a chemical leak, the stadium might need to be evacuated. I'm sure the boosters would not look favorably on that. – Jonathon 2 days ago
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    You don't seem to have addressed the question of how to ask for time off, but rather only that taking time off would probably be okay. – NotThatGuy 2 days ago
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    This. There is no reason for anyone to be on campus unless there is some sort of presence-critical experiment going on. Don't mention going to football mention the fact that getting to campus is damned near impossible, unless he can score you a big school in the South like Alabama, even faculty permits aren't worth the paper they're printed on from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening). – user0721090601 9 hours ago
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Don't.

That is, don't ask for time off to attend games--moreover, don't ask for time off on Saturday. Why? Because it's not a work day and your advisor isn't your mom.

Would it be reasonable to ask my advisor for Saturdays off, so that I can participate in our school's football tradition?

No, because as Dan Romik said, you don't ask for what's rightfully yours. Also, your advisor in a professional capacity doesn't need to know what you do on your time off.

How could I go about saying this to him, without upsetting him, or coming off as "unfocused"?

You don't come off unfocused by taking Saturdays off. On the contrary, you come off as someone who is trying to strike a good work-life balance and refresh yourself. This is very important to learn if you continue in academia (and frankly probably any profession).

As long as you do your job during the week, and are meeting the expectations that were laid out when you accepted your job (that is, if you're a laboratory experimentalist maybe you were told some experiments would require some attention on weekends), then you have nothing to worry about. If your advisor is getting upset at you for not coming in every Saturday, that's a separate question and I wouldn't want to work for such a person. Just because it might not be an uncommon problem doesn't mean it's an acceptable thing to do.

Source: Recently got my PhD in STEM from a R1 school with a big football program.

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This is up to you, I went to a university which had saturday attendence requirements, so one would have to apply for official leave. Probably this is not the case where you are, but I agree if everybody works on Saturdays, it is not good not to come. Personally I would talk to the supervisor tell him you want to see the games and if it is ok to come in on Sunday instead.

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