Graduate Students Personal Time Off (PTO) and Sick Leave Policy

Approved by Department Head, Director of Graduate Studies, Climate Committee, and Advisory Committee,
May 11, 2020

Several individuals, committees in the Department of Chemistry, and campus units reviewed and offered guidance toward the department’s personal time off (PTO) guidelines. These include DCGSAC student representatives, the Student Wellness Coalition, the Climate Committee, the Department Head, the Assistant Director of Graduate Diversity and Climate, the Director of Graduate Studies, the Advisory Committee, and representatives from campus units that include the Office of University Counsel, Labor and Employment, Illinois Human Resources, and Graduate Student Success.

Personal Time Off (PTO) Guidelines

The Department of Chemistry is committed to providing graduate students with opportunities to take PTO from the rigors of Ph.D.-related research and  teaching. By having time off, graduate students are more creative and productive when they return to their research and teaching. The guidelines below should be viewed as minimal; faculty research advisors may be more generous in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Any additional PTO is considered to be time off from “student” duties and is at the discretion of the student’s faculty research advisor (henceforth, simply “advisor”). Advisors are expected to discuss this policy (among others) annually with their graduate students.

These guidelines are superseded by Graduate College, LAS, or campus policies, or Collective Bargaining Agreements, where they are applicable. Questions or concerns related to this or other graduate student policies should be communicated to the Director of Graduate Studies.

TA/RA Appointments and Basis for PTO

Although the University does not explicitly specify compensated time off for graduate students, the Department of Chemistry provides PTO for all Chemistry graduate students regardless of their % appointment, noting that some students may have no formal % appointment at all (e.g., students on a full fellowship).

Chemistry graduate students who are not on full fellowships are paid on an 11-month basis, typically as Teaching Assistants (TA) for parts of their early years and as Research Assistants (RA) for their remaining years of graduate study. Appointments in Chemistry are generally paid at 50% FTE for the nine academic months and 33% FTE in the three summer months.

The 50% TA/RA duties are not the only expectations for a graduate student throughout their time in our degree program. Each graduate student employee is also explicitly a “student,” as signified by enrolling in and receiving credit for CHEM 599 and having their tuition and fees covered year-round by their PI’s research grant, a fellowship, or other sources. The CHEM 599 contribution constitutes the remaining hours per week spent on research, study, and related tasks, beyond the TA/RA effort. The department’s Ph.D. degree program expects student contributions via year-round research, study, and associated tasks independent of paid TA/RA duties.

Advisors are expected to allow students PTO for the ten University holidays each academic year. These University holidays are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Day After Christmas. Advisors should allow substitutions in order to be cognizant of different faiths and cultures. In addition to the ten University holidays, graduate students in the Department of Chemistry on 50% TA/RA appointments are allowed a minimum of 12 days of PTO per academic year away from their academic obligations (research, teaching, and studying) to give a total of 22 days (University holidays + PTO). Twenty-two days corresponds roughly to a month of working days, typically 22-23 days. The minimum of 12 days of PTO (beyond the 10 University holidays) is derived from the allowable 24 days of PTO for assistants who have 12-month appointments at 100% FTE per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Most Chemistry graduate students are on 50% appointments, and 50% of 24 days is 12 days. Unused PTO does not roll over to the next academic year.

The discipline of chemistry is unusual in that some experiments might unavoidably overlap with fixed University holidays. Students may choose to work on those days. If a student decides to work on a University holiday, then if they wish they should be granted equivalent time off at another time. Advisors should never expect that students will work on their religious holidays.

PTO for Fellowship-Holders or Other Students with Reduced TA/RA Appointments

The Department of Chemistry expects that graduate students who hold fellowships, internships, or other appointments that reduce their TA/RA appointments below 50% should be eligible for the same total amount of PTO as those who hold 50% TA/RA appointments. This amount may be adjusted only if warranted; for example, when the graduate student is not engaged full-time as a student or researcher.

Communication and Compliance

Both advisors and students are expected to put in a good-faith effort to accommodate PTO whenever possible, with minimal disruption to research and academic progress. Advisors can expect graduate students to communicate their plans for PTO in writing well ahead of time. Whenever possible, students should provide two weeks of notice for PTO absences of more than two days to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts that disrupt research, mentoring, or other
laboratory procedures. PTO shall be calculated in no finer than half-day increments. Work related activities such as recruiting graduate students for the department, and professional development activities aimed at advancing students’ careers such as attending conferences and participating in industry tours, are part of the traditional graduate education and shall not be counted as PTO. Jury duty service shall not be counted as PTO as per University policy. If the advisor and the student disagree on whether a particular activity constitutes PTO, then the situation should be brought to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies.

International Graduate Students and PTO

When an international graduate student visits their home country or otherwise travels internationally, they might encounter visa administrative issues that are beyond the control of the student, their advisor, or the department. Such issues might prevent the student from returning to their lab within the originally agreed PTO time frame. In such a situation, the student and advisor should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies as soon as possible to discuss options.

Before an international student departs the US, they should consult with their advisor to create a plan on how best to keep up with their research obligations in the event of a visa-related delay. An international graduate student is required to consult with ISSS before traveling internationally.

Sick Leave Policy

By University policy, assistants are eligible for 13 non-cumulative workdays of sick leave at the percentage of their appointment for each appointment year. Therefore, a Chemistry TA/RA with a 50% appointment has 6.5 sick leave days per academic year. Unused sick leave does not roll over to the next academic year. Sick leave days should not be used in place of PTO days. PTO can be used if sick leave is exhausted, but not vice versa. The department expects that graduate students who hold fellowships, internships, or other appointments that reduce their TA/RA appointments below 50% should be eligible for the same total amount of sick leave as those who hold 50% TA/RA appointments. The amount of sick leave may be adjusted only if warranted.

Mental Health Concerns

Recurring occurrences of acute or chronic mental health issues beyond the 6.5 sick leave days, including health concerns that involve regular therapy, counseling, or medical attention, should be discussed with the advisor, and appropriate accommodations should be arranged after consulting with OAE and DRES. If a student cannot reach an agreement with their advisor on proper accommodations, then they should arrange for a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies.