A question asked on this site discusses how professors earn their summer salary:

How do professors choose their summer salary?

My question is: are professors whose research is supported by external grants, e.g., the NSF grants, obligated to work during the summer, when they collect their summer salary? Or is the summer salary essentially free money, and professors resume their funded research in the fall semester?

What about during the month-long winter break that occurs between the fall and spring semesters?

  • 6
    There is a difference between "ethically obligated" and "forced by a big goon with a shotgun".
    – Tom Church
    Aug 12, 2016 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


While no one is technically forcing you to do work over the summer, you'd be foolish to take extended breaks.

One of the benefits of a tenured faculty position at a research university is that you get great flexibility in your schedule. Today, I left work early (e.g., 4pm) to pick up my kids at summer camp and go to the park. I have no (or almost no) formal obligations over the summer.

That said, this evening, I was doing data processing and reading through papers. It's now 1 AM.

My long answer to your question is that it's certainly possible for a research active faculty member to take a whole summer off, collect summer salary, and pick up in the fall with research and teaching.

This sounds like a very bad idea.

Right now, funding levels are so competitive, that everyone I know with research funding is trying to be as productive as possible throughout the year. The summer might be a bit more laid-back, and I bet most research faculty spend less time in the office or lab. Most will probably travel to at least one conference or workshop, and I bet most also take a week or two of "real vacation" with family or friends.

But, if you're not working on papers or grants year-round, you're probably falling behind and will likely have difficulty getting that grant (and summer salary) renewed.

This summer, I helped submit a major center grant, I'm drafting another grant for my group's research, and I'm trying to finish up ~3 papers. Add in some papers and grant proposals to review as service. I'm not trying to boast - I suspect this isn't an unusual summer work load for research-active faculty.

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    Maybe your grants are different, but in my field if you apply for grant that requests summer salary, typically the budget justification includes a line about you focusing on research in the summer. Hence if you take that summer salary, you have an obligation to spend that time doing research.
    – Kimball
    Aug 12, 2016 at 8:01
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    We don't include a comment like that because accounting rules now force us to do effort reporting across the year. The $$ comes in the summer, but there's an accounting trail that 80-90% during June is on grant X, and 3-4% of your time in Sept, Oct, etc is spent on research. In other words, research happens most during the summer, but it also happens year round. Aug 12, 2016 at 12:04
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    That's the main reason you personally may choose to work in the summer, but I am saying that in the situations I'm familiar with you do have an obligation to the funding agency to do research in the summer if that's what they're giving you money for. Whether they check up on you or not has nothing to do with your obligations. We're not 3rd graders anymore.
    – Kimball
    Aug 12, 2016 at 13:04
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    @Kimball - Sure, I agree. I expected multiple responses to the question. Sounds like you should post your comment too. Aug 12, 2016 at 14:58
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    @Chris at institutions I have worked for, professors pay for office space with grant money. maybe these grant missing professors will be asked to move to smaller offices in less convenient locations. grad students like advisors who can provide financial support. lots of bad things will happen that will make Professor Unsupported want to quit. Among other things, if you are not getting regular raises, you are falling behind.
    – emory
    Aug 12, 2016 at 20:23

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