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I'm a female undergraduate student applying to graduate school in the US this year, and I am in the process of contacting potential PhD advisors to enquire about positions in their labs, the nature of their work and whatnot.

Over the past few years, I've had really painful periods. For about 2 days a month, the pain is excruciating, and I can barely concentrate on anything, and I usually just writhe on my bed until it's over.

So far, all of my research has been online due to the pandemic, so I could get away with this. But in the future, while working in person, I would like to have 2 days off every month (so 24 days a year, unless the days fall serendipitously during the weekend or public holidays) to deal with this. I have tried to find information regarding 'period leave' in academia and could not find anything relevant. Googling tells me PhD students are entitled to about 20 vacation days a year.

I am worried that this might be a potential deal-breaker for a PhD supervisor. I think I will have to mention this; I'd rather not drop this bombshell after they accept me only to find out that they are not okay with 24 holidays a year.

  • Is it appropriate to bring this up with a potential PhD supervisor? I don't really know the customs in the US about talking directly about periods, and I am worried I may cross a boundary.
  • If appropriate, at what stage do I bring this up?
  • Is taking 24 days off a year an insurmountable problem? Is it reasonable to ask for this, or do I just have to 'suck it up' and deal with it?
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  • Is this a diagnosed medical condition? (If not, you'd need to get it diagnosed.) You are basically asking if and how such a condition would be accommodated. "Fortunately" this is a condition with a pretty reliable timing, which enables planning.
    – Roland
    Jul 20, 2021 at 6:44
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    Would you at all be willing to 'switch' those days. So if you have the two days of pain on Wednesday and Thursday, you're staying home but continue working over the weekend? Like @Roland says, getting it diagnosed will make things easier, but I know that that is not always easy with these issues.
    – Jeroen
    Jul 20, 2021 at 7:48
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    @Jeroen I don't think this is the right solution. OP needs to take those days as sick leave not holiday so it's unfair to work weekends in exchange. Also, OP, having excruciating pain like this for your period is not normal. Have you been to the doctor about it?
    – astronat
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:39
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    @astronat Of course, I do not suggest taking holidays. And yes, it would be unfair, but if the supervisor doesn't support the 24 days holidays, or if OP wants to use their holidays for other purposes than being at home, then this could be an option. Please note that I do not support this option, I think a supervisor should try to accommodate, but that was why I asked OP if they are potentially willing to work like this until their is perhaps a diagnosis.
    – Jeroen
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:43
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    @Jeroen I agree with astronat that it may be 'unfair' to work during the weekends, but I completely understand that this is not something you actually endorse, but is more like a workaround solution. I actually like that idea, I'll definitely consider it.
    – justauser
    Jul 20, 2021 at 17:09

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It seems to me that you really wouldn't want to end up with a PhD supervisor who would react negatively to you iniating a discussion about this. So don't worry about putting off a potential supervisor, but rather view this as a filtering out process from your side. The best time for stuff like this is towards the end of the process, shortly before you accept them as a supervisor.

The rest of my advice is probably more field-specific, with my experience being in (theoretical) computer science/mathematics. In these areas, it seems rather common for research to happen with a rather flexible working hours policy. In my experience, supervisors or students insisting on being "in the office" every weekday are a clear minority here. Getting enough work done in eg a month matters, but not on a daily basis. Here, having a conversation about flexible working hours might suffice.

In the comments there were some objections to the idea that you should be catching up on the work at other times. I agree that it would be fairer to have these days written off. However, as a PhD student (at least with plans to have an academic career) you should care more about your research output than your supervisor does. Thus, I don't see any benefit in focusing on the question of whether this should count as medical leave or not.

If your duties include teaching, this is another issue. Many departments don't seem to have any kind of organized substitute system. In these cases, if an instructor is too sick to teach, the class ends up cancelled. If you are a TA on a larger course with multiple sections, making an individual arrangement with fellow TAs to swap sessions if necessary could go a long way to make this work out in a smooth way.

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    "In my experience, supervisors or students insisting on being "in the office" every weekday are a clear majority here" - do you mean "a clear minority"? That seems to fit better in context (I might be misreading).
    – Rdd
    Jul 20, 2021 at 9:51
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    @Rdd Thanks for catching this. Yes, it should be "minority".
    – Arno
    Jul 20, 2021 at 10:02
  • Thanks Arno! This is reassuring. I'll keep this in mind. I hadn't thought about the TA situation. That certainly complicates things.
    – justauser
    Jul 20, 2021 at 17:06

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