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Changes to Time Off for Graduate Student Assistants, Ph.D. Conference Travel Support

The following email was sent to all Graduate School Ph.D. and master's students on February 11, 2022.

Dear Graduate School students,

I hope your semester is going well. I am writing to let you know about two changes we are implementing to enhance student support:

  • The Graduate School’s conference travel funding for Ph.D. students will now be an advance payment instead of a reimbursement.
  • We have developed an expanded policy on time off for Ph.D. and master’s graduate assistants.

The changes are detailed below.

Conference Support for Ph.D. Students

The Graduate School provides conference travel funding for advanced Ph.D. students who are actively participating in a regional, national, or international conference (e.g., presenting a paper or poster, leading a discussion on their research, etc.). Since the pandemic started, this funding has also been used to support active participation in virtual conferences.

Previously, this support was provided as a reimbursement after the conference, once students have submitted their expenses. Going forward, it will be provided as an advance payment before the conference. We made this change to help alleviate the potential financial burden of having to pay upfront costs for registration and travel.

You can see details about the updated conference support, including application instructions and how to report your expenses, at I want to acknowledge the efforts of Senior Associate Dean Shanna Fitzpatrick and her team in the Office of Graduate Student Financial Aid, who worked with Duke Financial Services to make this change, which is effective immediately.

If you have questions about the conference support, please contact

Time-Off Policy for Graduate Assistants

Being able to take time off is a key part of graduate students’ wellbeing and success. While The Graduate School previously had a policy on time off for Ph.D. students on 12-month research assistant appointments, there was no specific policy for other types of assistantships. We also heard some concerns about inconsistent observance of university holidays for graduate assistants. So we revised the policy to address research, teaching, and graduate assistants (RAs, TAs, and GAs) in full-year, semester-long, and summer appointments, and we added emphasis to the section regarding university holidays.

You can read the policy on the Graduate School website. It will go into effect starting in summer term, 2022. The new policy:

  • lists the minimum amount of time off from RA, TA, and GA duties, broken down by length of appointment (RAs on 12-month appointments also received two more days off than before);
  • emphasizes that Graduate School students should be off from assistantship duties on university holidays and that they can take time off to observe religious holidays;
  • clarifies that university holidays, religious holidays, sick days, parental accommodation, and time away for professional activities do NOT count against the minimum number of days off;
  • outlines the steps that Graduate School students should take if they meet resistance to their taking time off; and
  • encourages departments and faculty to be flexible to students’ needs in accommodating reasonable time-off requests beyond the minimum listed in the policy.

The provost, the deans of Duke’s schools, the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, and The Graduate School’s Executive Committee of Graduate Faculty have reviewed the new policy, provided helpful feedback, and voiced their support. We have also shared the new policy with directors of graduate studies and graduate faculty.

A tip of the hat goes to Senior Associate Dean John Klingensmith and Senior Director of Communications John Zhu for leading the development of the new policy. I also want to express my appreciation to university leaders for their support, and to the Graduate and Professional Student Government for its advocacy in this area.

If you have questions about the time-off policy, please contact


Paula D. McClain, Ph.D.
Dean of The Graduate School
Vice Provost for Graduate Education