My advisor is currently in hospital waiting to have an operation. It is nothing serious but nevertheless he is away from work. I've noticed that some of my lab mates continue messaging him despite him being in this situation. I wonder if this is a cultural thing and whether this is actually normal? I am in Canada but my background is European if that makes sense.

  • 4
    This depends on the advisor and what he may have communicated. If in doubt, don't, other than for really essential things.
    – Buffy
    Dec 14, 2021 at 21:57
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    You just made another post saying your prof wants you gone... what exactly is going on here?
    – quantum
    Dec 14, 2021 at 23:03
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    Next post: I have made my supervisor disappeared or I have landed my supervisor in the hospital permanently. What's next? Dec 14, 2021 at 23:06
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    What do you mean "messaging"? Texts, Slack? Absolutely not. Emails, sure Dec 14, 2021 at 23:06
  • 16
    I swear I have not done anything to him 😂
    – Jojo22
    Dec 14, 2021 at 23:39

2 Answers 2


It's appropriate to contact your supervisor to wish them a speedy recovery.

It's not appropriate to ask your supervisor to help you immediately while they are hospitalized or ill.

It may or may not be appropriate to let your supervisor know you need help with something when they are feeling better.

Personally, I prefer for students to let me know about their progress while I am sick. At least it's more pleasant than thinking about my own progress.

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    "Personally, I prefer for students to let me know about their progress while I am sick. " <- but that's something you would need to tell them explicitly. I would assume people in hospitals are not to be bothered about work.
    – einpoklum
    Dec 15, 2021 at 9:37
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    Yeah, agree with @einpoklum - to me personally, it would seem like it offers some distraction when you're lying in bed all day. But unless stated directly, I would assume that they are unavailable.
    – Jeroen
    Dec 15, 2021 at 10:57
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    @Jeroen But is it expected that they actually read emails while sick? I would assume they don't (if they don't want to). And with that assumption, it seems fair to send emails (with the expectation that they will read them eventually, when they are well again). But the assumption that they don't read emails if they don't want to might be a cultural issue.
    – tim
    Dec 16, 2021 at 14:18

Messaging, yes. Expecting replies, no.

If people tend to "take their work home with them", they may well want to keep in touch with what's going on. Your supervisor may be one of those people, which is why his students/colleagues are in the habit of messaging him.

However you do need to recognise that responses when they're out of office will depend on what they're currently doing. If they're sat watching TV, perhaps they're fine responding to messages. If they're on a date, not so much. If they're asleep, of course not. If they're unwell or going through some medical issue, it will completely depend on how they're feeling.

So if you want to send an update on your status, that's probably fine. If you're asking a question and expecting a reply within any kind of timescale, that's a big no-no.

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    I think this could be expanded to mention that this also limits what type of communication you can use. E-mail or inter-department paper mail is certainly fine, since that's obviously asynchronous. If your team uses Slack or something, it is fine if you're using it asynchronously but not fine if your team primarily uses it synchronously and you don't specify that this is an asynchronous request ("Hey, when you get back..."). If they have a work phone and already treat text asynchronously, that's fine, but if they treat it synchronously then probably not fine. Dec 15, 2021 at 17:07
  • @user3067860 That would still make assumptions. Even with paper mail, there's an expectation of a timely reply - but if you're in ICU with tubes in your arms, that reply isn't going to happen. :) I think the more general case is better. Whatever your means of communication, if they're out of office then assume you might not get a reply until they're back.
    – Graham
    Dec 15, 2021 at 21:32

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