Question : Should my advisor know if I am auditing unrelated courses?

Motivation : I am a PhD student in Computer Science and at times, I wish to audit courses which are not at all related to my thesis or research.

For instance:

  • For Fun : Italian Food and Art
  • For probable post-PhD jobs (but not related to thesis) - Econometrics, Quantitative Finance.

In general, my advisor is cool and won't mind the hour(s) I spend in the classroom. He allows me to work from home or wherever and doesn't care about "seeing" me in my office so long as I keep doing my work on time (which I do).

If I tell him about the courses, he unnecessarily might get freaked or worried and might question my intentions (which I can obviously clarify), If I don't it seems as if I am keeping something important from him.

  • 8
    Worrying about the consequences of keeping secrets from your advisor suggests something is wrong with your relationship with your advisor. (Note: Keeping secrets is not the problem; your personal life is none of your advisor's business.)
    – JeffE
    Jul 23 '12 at 17:53

In this case, you should let your advisor know, because the time spent in the classroom is time not spent in the lab. Since he's paying you for your time, if you will be doing daytime activities that will take time away from research he has a right to know about it. On a different note, depending on how auditing works in your university, there may be costs associated with your auditing the course, and he (or his grant) would be covering these costs.

Generally speaking, the more communication between you and your advisor, the better.


You should definitely tell your advisor about the potentially job related courses. As for the fun courses, if they are at your university and/or taught during regular working hours (9-5), you should tell him. If the courses are outside regular working hours and at a different school, then it is up to you. In either case, I would suggest telling him. These are the personal details that don't make anyone uncomfortable.

If your advisor is going to have an issue with you taking courses, you are better off knowing right off the bat.


In general, what you do in your "off-duty" hours are not subject to your advisor's wishes. So long as you're getting your job done, and are not using group resources to carry out those other activities, then what you do is your own concern.

However, if you're doing it during the daytime, or doing it for credit, then you should definitely let your advisor know. This is especially true of things related to your research program, as he or she may have helpful hints or suggestions about what is the right set of courses to take.


As far as I can tell, having pursuits and interests that are fun and relaxing and not-research are helpful to one's continued sanity and (research-)productivity. Since your work isn't suffering and if you're not spending excessive amounts of time on these pursuits, why not just mention it to your advisor? It might be nice for them to see you as an individual with varied interests as opposed to a research-doing machine.

As for job-related classes, perhaps there is a worry that your advisor wants you to go into academia but you want to say, go into industry - perhaps your additional classes are geared towards the industry side and you don't want your advisor to know about them as a result. In this case, I would say that it's better to just let your advisor know your intentions. If there is no discrepancy between the two of you about the courses being beneficial to your future, then letting your advisor know you're spending time and effort bolstering your background and knowledge sounds like a very positive thing to me!


Just let them know! It's okay to be in pursuit of knowledge or hobby but DON'T let it interfere with your research. See, you can take everything from Physics to Fine art and everything in between but at what cost? You will spend more money and more time to complete your PhD and it won't be worth it. The charm is for the first few years/semesters, but when the research takes over and you start loving what you do, you won't find time for other courses.

Your auditing unrelated courses is for your "personal gratification" only and doesn't help your advisor. It's okay to do it sometimes, but keep it at a minimum. For example, I love fine art and thought of auditing a fine art course. It won't cost my advisor and will only be for 1 hour per week in the evenings. I've never got around to doing it! I love my research and spend a lot of time working on that - so much so that my hobby can be put on hold.

Be sure you understand what is being lost and what is being gained - it should be valuable in some form or the other. If it keeps you sane, then a course once in a while is fine. But if you are auditing a lot more, you are going to take a longer time to do your Phd and when you look back you'll realize that you could've done with it.

Whatever you do TELL your advisor - they are your friends (most of the times :)

  • 2
    +1 for "they are your friends". While you do not need to tell your friends about your personal life, it seems odd to keep mundane hobbies a secret.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 24 '12 at 8:11

Just a paraphrase of some other remarks: you should not get into the habit of thinking that your employer/boss "owns" you, or has priority to all your time.

It may be that you and your boss began the relationship with some explicit or implicit understanding, say, that M-F 8-5 your time is their time, maybe with an hour for lunch. Or, starting down a slippery slope, perhaps it's 60 hours per week, or even understood that there's no upper limit? That "the larger enterprise" takes precedence? That people who "sacrifice everything now will be rewarded later"?

Although there's non-trivial content there, it is unwise to "buy" that propaganda too easily. For one thing, very few people are able to function at a high level more than a handful of hours in a day. The usual "40-hour workweek" is not predicated on _high_level_ function every minute of that time.

At the same time, yes, some of us are aware that we are just messing around, or just fretting, or just hanging out at the coffee machine, or water cooler, or... That this happens surprises no one, especially with confusing, large-scale projects where the novices participating find it very hard to understand what they're supposed to be doing.

Nevertheless, your employer does not own you, and does not have a claim to all your waking hours.

Yes, your demonstration of commitment to your employer/advisor/mentor's goals makes a positive impression on them. Self-deprivation is not the same as constructive work! Some sort of false converse. :)

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