Currently I am finishing my masters degree program in Life Sciences / Biotechnology by doing an industrial internship. After having obtained my degree, I would definitely like to do a PhD if I can find an interesting project in a location where I would also see myself living for a couple of years.

Another, non-career related ambition of mine is to go travelling for a couple of months. Now most would say that the time in between obtaining your degree and starting a PhD would be perfect for this, however, at the moment I lack the money to be able to make such a travel.

One option that came to mind would be to start a paid PhD program, which would me allow to save up some money to start a travel. Now the question is: would it be possible to take months off from my PhD work in the middle of the program? Note, I am not looking to spare up free days and use them all on this travel period, I would intend to take a real period off (and not be paid as a consequence).

I do realise that if this is possible at all it will be very specific and varying between different programs/supervisors/institutes, but I am looking for the general view in academia on this topic.

Edit: the geographical location where the PhD program would be done, is most probably Europe.

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    In the U.S., this might be feasible over the summer. If you are lucky and find a well-paid summer job over your first summer break, that might reap you enough money to finance some traveling over the second summer. This is all assuming you don't get sucked into wanting to pour your energy into your studies and, eventually, your research, over the summers. Apr 2, 2017 at 17:40
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    "Europe" is a diverse place with a multitude of university systems and accordingly different expectations. Apr 3, 2017 at 8:24
  • Very much case by case .. Also very much depends where the scholarship comes from
    – Greg
    Apr 3, 2017 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


This is almost completely dependent on two things:

  • Your departmental policies and program structure
  • Your advisor

In the US, most programs (all of the ones I'm personally aware of) work on a 9-month academic year schedule, so there's generally 2-3 months a year left over. This is a time that is variously spent on research, conferences, teaching appointments, or internships, so you generally want to be on the same page as your advisor (and department) on your plans.

Not all doctoral programs run this way, though, so if this is important to you, you should ask current students, potential advisors, and administrators in prospective programs how this generally goes.

As to affordability, that's really up to you in how cheap you want to (and are able to) live, choosing programs that are in affordable areas, and availability/pay of internships in your field.

  • Thanks for your answer, it is useful to see how this would work in the US, but I should have added that I would probably be doing the program in Europe. Will edit my question now Apr 3, 2017 at 6:33
  • @Sincinkybaju Certainly, I hope someone else is able to clarify for you, though you'll want to be more specific than just Europe as systems vary pretty widely there, too. I'd say there is probably more variance within European countries than even within the United States - and we have a pretty high variance on our own! Unfortunately I know nothing about any European summer funding systems, so I'll have to leave it to someone else.
    – BrianH
    Apr 4, 2017 at 3:21

In at least some (and perhaps many) European countries you're an employee for the duration of your Phd. This makes it quite hard to get unpaid leave. Sometimes there are allowances for a sabbatical, but this involves saving holidays over a few years, and it would be paid (in the Netherlands and Germany at least).

I don't know how long you want to leave, but in some countries you'd have up to 30 holidays a year. If you can arrange to save them for the next year, and depending on holidays, you'd be able to travel for 10-12 weeks. Paid.

Whether or not this is accepted by your supervisor is an open question, but supervisors in Europe are very used to Phd students leaving for 3-4 weeks periods every year. I can imagine that extending this period is not such a shock. I would expect you to have more trouble to convince your supervisor you can be productive for almost 2 years without any additional holidays.

  • Good answer, especially the first part is what I was looking for: 'This makes it quite hard to get unpaid leave'. I am specifically looking for an opportunity in which I don't need to save up my holidays, but just leave for a couple (2-5) months, which would also ideally mean that the program is extended by these months. In case this is not possible, the best planning for me would be to work temporarily in some company to make enough money to travel, after which I (hope to) start a PhD Apr 3, 2017 at 9:26

Every program I have been a part of (albeit only US) calls this a leave of absence. There is a formal process that is typically well established. You can probably find the particulars on their website. I googled a "leave of absence (school name)", and the first link was it for the three schools I tried.

Their may be informal consequence with regards to your adviser and colleagues, but I suppose that is a different question.

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