I currently work full-time for the Department of Defense. I usually get three-weeks worth of paid time off every year. This has been helpful because I like to go back home to visit family for about two weeks or take a long weekend and visit friends around the country.

I will be starting my master's degree program this coming fall and I have managed to obtain a part-time graduate research assistantship (GRA). In reading the student handbook, I noticed that GRAs are required to work year-round and only allowed to observe certain holidays. There is a provision that you can work more hours over several weeks in order to get some consecutive days off.

My question is, in the graduate student lifestyle, is my dream of maintaining 2-3 vacation weeks a year completely thrown out the window? Will I be expected to stay on campus and work every single possible day? Do GRAs grant vacation hours that you can accrue?

Thank you for your time.

  • You couldn't swing a TDY and thus remain employed by the DoD while pursuing the master's?
    – mkennedy
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 19:48
  • I could have but chose not to. Please understand that this is just my personal situation and I choose to leave the DoD and study full-time in a major that is completely different than my previous work.
    – noblerare
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


The answer is: it depends.

The biggest factor is where you're a graduate student. For instance, graduate students in Germany receive up to six weeks of vacation per year, while graduate students in the US may only get two weeks' vacation per year, if even that much.

However, I think that in the US, where policies are a bit less generous, the real deciding factor is your graduate advisor. I think that reasonable graduate advisors will permit students to take off a few weeks per year (especially since most of them might do so themselves!), provided that you make sure it doesn't conflict with any major deadlines or events in your group. For instance, asking to take substantial vacation time just before your first big conference is probably inadvisable. But time during the holidays or during a relatively "quiet" time in your group (whenever that happens to be) would probably be OK.

  • But would that be paid or unpaid leave?
    – mkennedy
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 19:49
  • 1
    Unless the grad student is filing timecards, it would normally be paid leave.
    – aeismail
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 19:51
  • This matches my experience, and is also very field-dependent. Many biology students are tightly tied to the lab, while the computer scientists in my area tended to take 3 weeks off for winter holidays ("nobody will be in lab anyway"), plus other vacation time at other parts of the year.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 20:52

Congrats! As far as I can remember as a Graduate Assistant we were not offered vacation time or personal time as part of the deal. You can speak to someone in Human Resources or at your Graduate Student Union to learn more about the policies at your particular institution. Keep in mind that many schools have fairly generous semester breaks so you might easily be able to squeeze 3 weeks in between December and January. However, the answer will be specific to your particular institutions policies.

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