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I am a PhD student from India studying in the UK and I have been diagnosed with Hepatitis B during my recent visit to India. The sad part is that it is a recurrence of the disease as I contracted it before my PhD and had to delay my PhD for a few months in the beginning.

Now that I have been diagnosed with it again, I'm afraid of telling my supervisor and sponsors about it as I feel they might cancel the funding as I have such a recurrent problem.

I say this because my project is funded by a German company who are a stickler for time and want me to finish my work on time as there have been enough delays.

I also took 2 months off in the summer to work on a separate research project outside of my PhD to build experience. It was not taken nicely by the company but I went anyway as I had a very good first year viva and report. I took it with the thought that I would make up the time by working extra once I get back and my supervisor supported me in this regard. Plus, UK PhD students are allowed 6-8 weeks off during their PhD for holidays and I haven't taken any time off since except to visit India for a conference, which has led to my predicament.

I feel completely lost and I do not know what to do.

What I exactly want to know is, If its normal for PhD students to take time off for illnesses? Can sponsors withdraw funding in that event? How does it affect the time of the PhD?

  • IMHO the 2 months off paragraph does not add anything to the quesiton. – seteropere Nov 28 '14 at 18:38
  • Ok, I thought explaining my situation completely might be helpful. Should i remove it? – Arun Prasad Nov 28 '14 at 18:42
  • I have explained what my questions are. Sorry, but this is my first forum post. – Arun Prasad Nov 28 '14 at 18:46
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    Great, the question is much clearer now! – ff524 Nov 28 '14 at 18:47
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    Here in Sweden, the time you are sick doesn't count towards your limit, and they definitely cannot fire you for being sick. I would imagine the situation in the UK would be similar, so you should probably ask at your institution for the legal details. This you can surely do in a completely confidential way, if you want. Also, I think your advisor should be your best ally here. – Davidmh Nov 28 '14 at 21:01
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I'm at Simon Fraser University in Canada, but I've recently been dealing with this issue as I'm involved with our grad student association, so I wanted to respond to your question. If you don't change your registration status in any way, your semesters will almost certainly count against you in every way imaginable -- everyone thinks you're making progress and there is nothing to say otherwise. You should look into your university's 'on leave' policy, as that will be the formal mechanism that allows other allowances to take place. Here, leave for medical reasons will require going through your supervisor (and in turn, a faculty committee), but is essentially always granted, so I hope that works the same where you are.

Unfortunately, funding entities likely have their own, probably very specific, rules, so it's unlikely any general advice would cover them.

Ultimately, I highly recommend taking formal leave (i.e. changing your registration status), because various negative effects will likely accrue otherwise.

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I'm at a UK university. In my institution, which almost certainly doesn't have the same regulations as all, there are two distinct issues.

First, the university regulations around PhD candidature. Here, you can suspend your studies which "stops the clock" on your PhD with absolutely no come-back (formally). There is a maximum length of time for this (from memory, a total of 18 months) after which it becomes a "fitness to study" matter. But initially I would always recommend that a student suspends until they are well enough to continue.

Second, the issues around the funding for your PhD. There are (at least) two possibilities here, and you'll need to carefully read your contract/offer letter to see which applies to you. In the first case, the company is paying the university in general, or your supervisor in particular, for the research. In this case it is their responsibility to get the work done on time, not yours. The university and its staff has to work within its own regulations regarding sick leave. I would be astonished if those regulations could force you to work whilst seriously ill. [I would not be at all astonished if some within the university would try to make you work when ill, outwith the regulations]

In the second case, you are (possibly partially) directly funded by the company. In that case the contract may have clauses about "funding subject to suitable progress". However, as commenters have mentioned, that again has to be judged within UK employment law. Here it is more complex, but I would expect that sick leave regulations would again apply as normal.

Bottom line: I would recommend to tell your supervisor and graduate school as soon as possible, to suspend your studies until able to work again, and to contact your union / student union / student support people if there is any trouble about this.

  • Yes, my contract does have the statement, "Please note that stipend payments are subject to satisfactory attendance and academic progression and may be stopped at any time if a student is deemed not to be meeting these requirements." Does this mean that funding can be cut short due to lack of attendance due to illness? I feel so lost! Thank you for your time. – Arun Prasad Dec 16 '14 at 17:41
  • I would have thought not, provided you tell them about the illness. Non-attendance or participation without telling them is risky. I'd definitely get the union involved if possible. – Ian Dec 16 '14 at 22:11
  • I don't want it to be blown out of proportion. I'll just tell my supervisor and take it from there. Thank you so much. – Arun Prasad Dec 17 '14 at 14:02
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You may be interest to see university of Manchester's sick leave policy for PhD students.

I suspect the main points will be similar for other UK institutions, although details may vary.

Relevant points are:

  • You may suspend you studies due to sickness for a maximum of 12 months throughout your studies.
  • For industry funded PhDs payment of stipend will depend on regulations of funder, so you may not get paid sick leave.
  • You must get a medical certificate to certify you are ill.

Personally I would just tell you supervisor that you are ill and explain the situation to them.

However, if you are not comfortable telling them immediately other people you could contact are your student union welfare rep/graduate school rep or most places also have a student advice centre or similar. These should be able to tell you/find out the specific regulations for you institution and assist you if your supervisor is awkward.

  • Well, I am currently at home and recovering. I have a medical certificate, but I'm scared to send it in as I'm worried they would kick me off the program. I feel I'm getting depressed and it is crippling my recovery as well. I do not care about paid sick leave. I am worried about whether they will cut the funding altogether. They are a big company and I have only shown good progress so far, so logically, I suppose they would be spending more money and effort on another student. However, I'm extremely scared as I feel quite lost. – Arun Prasad Dec 16 '14 at 17:33
  • Also, my funding letter states "Please note that stipend payments are subject to satisfactory attendance and academic progression and may be stopped at any time if a student is deemed not to be meeting these requirements." Does this mean that funding can be cut short due to lack of attendance due to illness? – Arun Prasad Dec 16 '14 at 17:38

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