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This webpage sets out the detailed policy on working hours and holidays for research students in the MPLS Division.

Most graduate students are not paid employees and therefore do not have contractual working hours. Working practices also vary widely between disciplines and between individuals and thus a policy has been established to guide expectations. 

Regardless of department an overarching principle of this policy is that DPhil students should work conscientiously during their working hours in order to achieve their research objectives. In research, outcomes and outputs are what are primarily being judged and thus students should agree and understand what goals are expected of them with their supervisor and endeavour to work hard toward these goals. It is recommended that students aim to work a regular pattern that balances their preferences, research needs and flow of work, and that they take regular breaks and holidays. Consistently long working hours with few breaks and insufficient holidays is detrimental to health and reduces productivity, creativity and innovation.

Students and their supervisors should explicitly discuss working patterns and holidays, taking into account the requirements of the research and the well-being of the student. 

Working hours

The standard DPhil working week in the MPLS Division is set at an average of 40 hours. Only time spent engaged in focussed, conscientious work should be counted towards working hours.

The maximum number of hours that a DPhil student should be working is an average of 48 hours over 17 weeks. (This is in line with the Government’s working time directive). It is recognised that sometimes long working hours are needed for a period to manage the demands of the research, but no student should be regularly working above this number of hours unless they have explicitly and freely chosen to do so.

Other considerations that should be taken into account 

The availability of equipment and other resources: Students should be able to manage their own time around equipment and resource availability and balance that with supervisor expectations of being in the office / lab at core times. 

Religious or cultural needs:  There should be sufficient flexibility to manage any such expectations or obligations. Students should early on consider how these needs may call for shifts in working times and consult their supervisors on how to structure work within set deadlines.

Caring Responsibilities: Where a student has caring responsibilities, these should also be taken in to account when planning working hours. 

Lone working: The risks of working out of hours / alone must be assessed by departments (see the Safety Office page on Risk Assessments) and local guidelines on this should be borne in mind when considering working patterns. 

Disability: Students living with a disability or long-term health condition should be supported in maintaining a pattern of working hours that enables them to balance work and health needs. This may include flexibility on start and finish times or the opportunity to take regular breaks during the day. Disability may sometimes affect the hours at which a student is able to work e.g. a student who takes longer to get mobile in the morning might struggle with arriving at the lab for a very early morning session. Some disabled students may be unable to work long hours without adverse impact on their health. Further advice can be sought from the Disability Advisory Service.  

Building networks and cohorts: It is important that students aim to maximise the opportunities for contact with their supervisor and other members of the research group, and to interact with other students and academic staff.  Understanding where and when time is spent is therefore important in building successful networks as a researcher.


The MPLS Division has set the DPhil holiday entitlement at 30 personal days a year in addition to Bank Holidays. Where Bank Holidays are worked time can be taken in lieu. 

Timing of holidays: This should be explicitly discussed by the student and supervisor, taking into consideration both the requirements of the research and the well-being of the student. The expectations and requirements of different cultures and religions should also be taken in to consideration when discussing holidays. Students should early on consider how these needs may impact on the needs of their research and consult their supervisors on how to structure work within set deadlines. 

Broadening Activity 

During the course of the DPhil students should engage in broadening activity such as (but not limited to) departmental seminars, attending conferences, generic skills training, outreach and public engagement, and career development. The division considers this type of activity to be a legitimate part of the DPhil and that a norm of 100 hours per year should be included within standard working hours. It is anticipated that the amount of broadening activity should be reduced once the student is writing up. 

What students should do if they are unhappy about their working hours and / or holidays 

Where a student feels their research work has become over-demanding, and / or where there a perceived expectation that students will work very long hours with few or no breaks or holidays, students should try to discuss this with their supervisor. If the student feels unable to engage with their supervisor on the subject they should contact their college advisor, or departmental Director of Graduate Studies.