As a Ph.D. student in Germany, what's the maximum allowed holiday time per year? I heard of 1 month per year.


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    (A) The Ph.D. student has teaching duties? Then she can vacation when her students do. (B) The Ph.D. student is doing experiments with live plants/animals? Then she can vacation when the plants/animals do not need care (i.e. never). This also applies to other research that needs constant observation. I am sure there are other scenarios as well. – GEdgar May 19 at 12:09
  • It depends on the country. In The Netherlands it is roughly 8 weeks, but I know that in for example Germany it is substantially lower. – Tom van der Zanden May 19 at 12:12
  • @TomvanderZanden Really? 8 weeks of Holidays? or 8 weeks of vacation? Why I ask is this: as a contractor to the US government, for instance, I am allowed 10 Federal holidays. That is two weeks (10 times 8 hours). I am also given 3 weeks of vacation time to use above and beyond those days. So, what is 'holiday' time? – CGCampbell May 19 at 12:21
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    @CGCampbell I do not understand the distinction between "holiday" and "vacation". Each year, I start with a "credit" of 41 days and every time I take a day off, it gets deducted from that credit. You can use it whenever you please (though obviously not in a way that interferes with your duties), though the university is allowed to fix max. 5 days during which everybody has to use their leave. In addition to that there are several national holidays everybody has off (e.g., christmas), leave for special occasions (wedding/death/birth in immediate family, relocation,...) and of course sick leave. – Tom van der Zanden May 19 at 12:34
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    @TomvanderZanden and others: I think a distinction between the British and US usage of "holiday" needs to be made here: in British English, holiday is what is called vacation in the US. There are also public or bank holidays, such as Christmas, 1st of May etc which everyone gets off and which are not deducted from the holiday (aka vacation) allowance. – astronat May 19 at 19:58

The answer will be specified in your job contract, stipend agreement or whatever source you get money from. Most PhD students in Germany are employed under one of the collective labor agreements (TV-L, TV-H etc.), according to which a full-time employee has a right to 30 days of paid vacation per year.

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    Are doctoral students in Germany considered "full time employees"? – Buffy May 19 at 12:27
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    @Buffy Most doctoral students are indeed employed by their university, but the level of employment varies between half-time and full-time. Full-time employment is particularly common in fields with a strong industry demand for graduates (computer science etc.) – lighthouse keeper May 19 at 12:32
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    Thanks. That is useful to know. – Buffy May 19 at 12:34
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    @Buffy Nevertheless, it is also possible (at least in Germany) to do a PhD independently, without being employed by a university or research institute or similar. All you need is a supervisor who is a professor at a university. So you could also be a PhD student that works part time at a restaurant to make a living and spends the rest of their time working idependently on their PhD. This is more common in the humanities than in science or engineering. – Sursula May 19 at 13:08
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    @Buffy: Technically speaking, the situation is actually a bit more involved, since the status of being a PhD student is not directly related to being an employee in Germany (I've added a few details on this in my answer). However, the comment by lighthouse keeper already describes how things are often handled in practice. – Jochen Glueck May 19 at 20:07

In addition to the answer given by lighthouse keeper, I think it is worthwhile to point out the following points more explicitly, since the comments indicate that there is some confusion about the status of PhD students at public universities in Germany.

Disclaimer: The following information is certainly far from comprehensive. I'm also far from being an expert for any kind of legal questions, so beware of the usual rule: If you want legal advice, you have to ask a lawyer.

Strictly speaking the question is not well-posed since a status as a PhD student does not constitute a status as an employee of the university. More precisely, the system works as follows in Germany:

  • In general, being a PhD student only means that you have agreed with your advisor that they will advise you while you do research on a certain topic which is intended to result in a PhD thesis. Sometimes (though not always) this is accompanied by somekind of formal agreement between the PhD student and the supervisor (there's the wonderful bureaucratic notion "Betreuungsvereinbarung" for this in German). Many PhD students are also formally enrolled as PhD students at their universities (although this is not always the case).

    However, none of this gives the PhD student a legal status which is comparable to a contract of employement. In particular, merely being a PhD student does not include any concrete obligations concerning numbers of working hours, or the legal obligation to carry out any particular tasks assigned by the advisor. Conversely, this also means that there is no such thing as "vacation" for a PhD student - simply since there is no contractual obligation to do any work from which a PhD student could take a vacation.

Employment - and thus, vacation - enters the game when it comes to the question of funding. Typically, there are three ways in which a PhD student in Germany can make for a living:

  • The PhD student gets a job a "scientific employee" ("wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter" in German) at the university (strictly speaking, the employer might not always be the university itself, but sometimes the federal state where the university is located; but this is probably not too important here).

    Such a position can either be a so-called "Landesstelle" - (i.e., it comes from a pool of positions which are permantly at the disposal of individual professors, and it typically comes with a certain amount of teaching duties), or it can be paid for by a research grant (in which case it does typically not involve teaching duties).

    In each of these two cases, a PhD student with such a position is employed as a public servant and thus, a collective wage agreement for public servants applies. As a consequence, the employee (i.e., the PhD student) is entitled to 30 days of paid leave per year (those 30 days are in addition to public holidays, for which all employees are also granted paid leave in Germany, no matter whether they are employed in the public or in the private sector).

  • The PhD student wins a scholarship which funds them for the time of their PhD. Such scholarships do not constitute an employement contract in Germany. In particular, the concept of "vacation" is not well-defined since the PhD student is not an employee.

    Of course, this does not mean that the PhD student has to work all the time. Since there is no employment contract, there is, again, no legal obligation to work a specific number of hours or days, and thus, the PhD student can of course "take days off" by simply not working on some days. (Although the regulation for the scholarship might contain some terms which require the PhD student to "put a reasonable amount of effort" into pursueing their PhD, or something similar - but this will be much less specific than what is defined in an employment contract.)

  • Finally, there's also the possibility to do a PhD and to do, at the same time something completely different for a living. For instance, a PhD student might be employed part-time in the industry. In this case, the student will of course have a contract with their employer for this job, which again entitles them to a certain amount of paid leave (by law these are, independently of the employer, at least 20 days per year for a full-time job - which are, again, granted in addition to the paid leave for public holidays. Many companies grant more paid vacation, though (often 30 days), and some are even obliged to do so since this is required by some collective wage agreements with unions).

    But since, in this case, the job is completely unrelated to the PhD position, so is the vacation. The question how much of their time the student spends on their PhD is again not subject to any contract of employment in this case, so again it is not possible to talk about "taking vacation" (in a legal sense) from the PhD studies.

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    Note that you can also combine these options. A scholarship together with a 25% "Stelle" (i.e. a part time job as scientific employee) is not that uncommon. – Keba May 19 at 22:37
  • @Keba: Yes indeed. I did precisely the same thing during my PhD (scholarship plus a 25% position). I found it to be quite a good deal, in particular since it leaves sufficient time for research, but still gives the opportunity to gain a serious amount of teaching experience. – Jochen Glueck May 20 at 0:50
  • "strictly speaking, the employer is not the university itself, but the federal state where of the university is located" - This is likely state-dependent. – user151413 Jun 4 at 18:29
  • @user151413: Ah yes, I might have over-extrapolated my personal experience here. Thus, I've slightly reworded the sentence now. – Jochen Glueck Jun 4 at 22:22

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