My fiance's paper was just accepted for a conference that is held out of country during one of my exams and he would really like me to come with him, as it is his first time presenting at a conference and first time leaving the country. When he asked, I told him that I couldn't go because of my exam during the conference time, but multiple people have told me to ask my professor if I can defer my exam.

Is asking worth a try or will I just annoy my professor?

  • 9
    You might be asked to take the exam in advance - I've known professors that prefer that strategy too.
    – tonysdg
    Oct 13, 2015 at 23:57
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    Bringing your spouse to a conference is like bringing your spouse to a meeting with your boss. Don't. Oct 14, 2015 at 3:46
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    I don't get this question. Apparently you love your fiance enough to want to spend the rest of your life with him. But you are not sure if you love him enough to risk mildly annoying your professor by asking him a question?
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 14, 2015 at 4:32
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    The best that can happen for your fiance's academic and career prospects is that he ends up spending all the non-scheduled time, including evenings, with other conference participants talking about the conference topic. Would you be able to either participate in the conference or occupy yourself independently during it? If not, it is a bad idea to go regardless of the exam. Oct 14, 2015 at 5:35
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: Bringing one's spouse to a conference is not as unusual as you make it sound. Many CS conferences include a "social event" on one evening and explicitly offer to buy additional tickets for attendees whose family members have come to the conference location. This does, however, not mean that these additional people attend the actual conference, as they have not registered as participants and paid the entrance fee, it only means that they spend their days on their own and are with their researcher-spouse in the evening. Oct 14, 2015 at 8:32

6 Answers 6


There's nothing wrong with asking, as long as you are polite and willing to take "no" for an answer.

  • Hypothetically the professor in question may take a very hard line in regards to students taking their class schedules with the utmost seriousness (as alluded to in AMR's answer). For the most part I would only expect this to be a temporary emotional issue for the OP, and to thus fall under "willing to take 'no' for an answer". Unless the professor is also on your thesis committee or is otherwise reasonably expected to have some say and sway in your career path, then all it should amount to is some unpleasant abrasiveness for a few minutes. Oct 14, 2015 at 2:03
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    @zibadawatimmy people can get upset for anything. Jake's answer applies to any reasonable professor; unreasonable ones may give you trouble for the colour of your shoes. Also, different institutions take schedules with different levels of seriousness.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 14, 2015 at 7:45
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    This is the only reasonable answer. It's an exam, not the end of the world. That said, some exams are more important and less easily rescheduled than others. Without more information, though, asking is the only appropriate advice.
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 14, 2015 at 20:07

This may be unpopular, but I would only suggest asking for an exam extension under four five conditions:

  1. A medical emergency
  2. A death in your immediate family
  3. A true scheduling conflict (usually occurs only during finals) with another exam
  4. The instructor changes the exam date that they posted on the syllabus and it causes a conflict with a professional obligation that you scheduled based on the syllabus
  5. Your work was accepted to a conference or seminar after the beginning of the semester that conflicts with the exam date (edit based on suggestion from ff524)

For point 3, I would still suggest only going to the instructor that you have a better personal relationship with. If it is back to back exams, then you are expected to manage your time and energy effectively at this point in your academic career. Some professor's are very clear that they are there to help and accommodate their students, but if yours has not given those overtones, then I would hesitate.

For point 4, the syllabus is a contractual arrangement with you as a student. It outlines the obligations of the course (your contractual obligation) and the commitments of the professor (their contractual obligations), one of which is keeping to the schedule barring unforeseen circumstances.

Understand that when you made the choice to do graduate work, you were making a decision about your career, one that should be extremely important to you. As a result you have a professional obligation to meet the requirements and conduct yourself in a professional manner.

If you were working in the corporate sector and had a major deliverable on a project you were working on, or you are a key member in the team that makes the sales or investor pitch that could make your start-up succeed or fail, would you go to your boss and ask for the time off or turn to the customer or venture capitalist and ask to change the meeting for this situation?

Why then would you treat an exam, which is part of the career obligations you chose to undertake, any differently? Also remember you are asking the professor to do extra work for your benefit. They may need to write a different exam for you.

All that being said, if you are in a graduate program (which you are technically supposed to be if you are asking on this site), then you should know people in your department fairly well and you should be able to get a feel for how amenable the professor will be to your request. Good personal lives make for successful careers, but just remember what that request is saying. These decisions are not easy.

EDIT: Regarding Comments

I think many people are trying to rationalize with institutional "rules" about exams or how nice of a person the professor might be. One of the best professors I had rescheduled our final for a number of us who had a difficult exam before her's and gave us the exam the day before she was leaving the country for an extended holiday. But it was her belief that she wanted to give us the best opportunity to demonstrate what we had learned and effort we put in and not what the results of a scheduling decision by the registrar were. But she in no way had to be that flexible or generous with her own free time.

The point I am trying to make with my post is about personal responsibility and conducting one's self professionally. And to do that, you need to chose obligations and needs over wants. Whether or not the school's policy allowed for it, it is unprofessional to expect the professor to have to do more work so that you can go on vacation. Most professor's have a host of other professional responsibilities, and you are either cutting into their professional time to do research or you are cutting into their personal time to do what ever it is they would do with the time it takes to figure out how they will accommodate your request, including likely rewriting the exam, administering the exam, or finding someone else to proctor the exam, all for something that is your obligation, to show up for a scheduled exam and be prepared.

There are certain things that trump that, and that list is above as they are about the obligations and needs for the student's well being and only someone completely selfish and lacking of compassion would begrudge the request, and that includes outside work obligations in a job that supports the student that were made prior to the syllabus being issued.

But for something that, for all intents and purposes, is a holiday, as the student would have no official responsibilities at the conference as they are not the one invited to present their work is not a professionally acceptable reason. Vacation time is scheduled in between semesters, and as a student, one should accept that it is their professional responsibility to meet those scheduling requirements, especially on the graduate level.

  • 7
    I don't think those are the only valid reasons to ask for another exam date. For example, I think it's perfectly reasonable for a student to ask for an exam deferral if the student herself is going to present at a conference - that student likely submitted the conference paper before the semester even started, and had no way to foresee the conflict. As an instructor, I would try hard to grant that student a deferral, if I am able to. (I would not be likely to grant a referral to the OP, who is going on a personal, not professional, trip.)
    – ff524
    Oct 14, 2015 at 1:29
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    @ff524 I would agree with that, but that falls under professional obligations, and brings, prestige, however minimal, to the school and the department to have one of their student's or faculty representing them at a conference or seminar. I think any professor of graduate students, even undergraduates in many cases would welcome that request. I should probably revise point 4.
    – AMR
    Oct 14, 2015 at 1:34
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    @NateEldredge They idea is that once you embark on a graduate program, you have made a career choice, and in any career you should conduct yourself professionally at all times. For a graduate student that means being prepared and meeting your obligations to your coursework. It may also include research and teaching responsibilities as well. If the exam represents 33-50% of their semester grade, then that is a pretty big professional responsibility, and I don't think given the circumstances described that it warrants even the entertainment of the idea of not sitting for the exam.
    – AMR
    Oct 14, 2015 at 3:52
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    The seriousness of an exam schedule depends on the institution. Where I did my undergrad, professors are free to schedule additional exams for whichever reason they see fit, and a few have been known for considering vacation a fair one.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 14, 2015 at 7:59
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    Re:"syllabus is a contract"...Perhaps you should look up the definition of contract? In my college days, I seem to recall that by the time week 3 rolled around very few classes were in sync with the syllabus. A plan is generally not something that can be accurately scheduled. A syllabus is just a plan, not a contract. The other part you are totally missing is that in a "professional" environment, generally meetings are confirmed shortly before the actual meeting. That gives both sides the opportunity to "change the plan" if something comes up. Changing a plan is not unprofessional.
    – Dunk
    Oct 14, 2015 at 15:06

If you are willing to take the exam in advance, if it is not too much trouble for me to make a separate exam for you, and if I feel that there are no fairness issues by doing so, then I guess it would be acceptable to me no matter what your reason is. If I did this I would probably want to make the offer of taking the exam early to all the students. If it seems like it would not fly to make this offer across the board, then I would hesitate it to make it to any one student.

If you are in the same academic field as your fiance and you could attend the conference yourself professionally that would be a different matter. I will assume this is not the case. IF so, then to me your request sounds rather close to "I'd like to go on vacation with my fiance rather than take my exam at its regularly scheduled time." Maybe this sounds less than empathetic, but in my experience accompanying some other grown person in a professional context for moral support is not a standard thing to do. Most academics have travelled internationally and/or presented at a conference, and for those who have there was a first time. This is, conventionally, not something that requires a support network of another person to be physically present. If you are not participating in the conference, then your fiance will be and therefore having you there could be more of a distraction than a comfort. You would see each other only for a few hours a day when he gets back from the conference. Why does he need you there?

I don't want to pry into your personal situation but I'll just say that if your fiance actually has special needs for which you function as a caretaker, then that is a different story and would be worth mentioning to your professor. But getting academic stuff scheduled because your fiance would miss you during his trip: again, it sounds a bit harsh but I think the honest truth it that most academics would not really understand that and think that both of you are not as "serious" as you should be. Maybe being together is more important to you than that kind of stuff: fair enough....


Essentially, you are asking an academic institution to upset normal exam procedure because you want a holiday (or vacation, if you are American). Does this sound reasonable to you?


I don't see any problems here. You are not going to annoy the professor, at most the professor may tell you that he won't be able to make any arrangements to deal with this issue. The sooner the professor knows about this, the better your chances will be that the professor can make an arrangement for you.


I allowed my students to take an exam on an alternative day for much less compelling reasons IF their overall performance in the class was above certain (reasonably high) threshold. However I have no idea whether this "IF" applies to you, and if it does not, beware: to be treated from human rather than formal standpoint regardless of official regulations, etc. is a privilege, not a right, and there should be some reason why you might be considered deserving it. This is not as much about whether to ask (asking a question like that in a polite way won't hurt you in any way) as to what to expect as an answer (though, of course, some people are kinder than others).

As to Pete's "Why does he need you there?", I've seen many graduate students to bring throngs of their relatives to their PhD defense. Showing off to your beloved ones in your moment of glory is human, just as wanting to see some familiar and trusted/trusting eyes in the sea of unknown spectators when onstage. Of course, almost everyone can (and many do) perfectly well manage without that, but why should we deny reasonably good people a few little pleasures in this rather large and fairly unpleasant world even if it might be classified as "unfair to others" or "violating official policies"?

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