Research as Labour

Editor’s note: this article, published in 2015, makes reference to a previous edition of the AUT Postgraduate Handbook that is now out of date. The most recent edition can be downloaded here (student login required).

Did you celebrate Labour Day on Monday by putting your feet up, congratulating yourself on how hard you work, and taking a well-earned break?

If so, great. If not: did you feel that you couldn’t?

Labour Day was established in New Zealand to celebrate workers’ rights to an eight-hour day. But it’s easy to think of postgraduate research as something different to a traditional 9-to-5 job. For a start, it doesn’t earn a salary. There are no KPIs, few meetings, and you’re unlikely to have a nice chat with Linda from Marketing at the water cooler.

Postgraduate research is often considered the work of someone with passion for their subject, and for knowledge in general; someone who doesn’t “clock out” from thinking about their work. But research is a form of labour, and like any labour, it can get exhausting if we don’t take breaks. The trouble is, sometimes, we feel we can’t.


At AUT, a postgraduate research student’s right to a decent break is enshrined in policy. From the AUT Postgraduate Handbook 2015:

“Apart from statutory holidays (including the two week period over Christmas that the University is closed) doctoral candidates would normally be expected to take a maximum of three weeks leave from their study per year. This period will not ‘stop the clock’ on the length of candidature and candidates will be expected to complete within the normal timeframe.” (p.48)

Three weeks’ leave, plus two weeks over the Christmas closedown (which is actually three weeks this year) equals at least 5 weeks that postgrad students* are perfectly entitled to take off every year, as long as it doesn’t delay completion.

That means you don’t have to feel guilty about the occasional holiday, week off for family reasons, or even lazy staycation at home. It also means that you can legitimately take statutory holidays like Labour Day off, if that’s what works best for you. Or work them, and take a break on a regular workday instead.

Research students have some measure of flexibility in setting our schedules, and that is a wonderful thing. But overworking isn’t.

*The handbook refers to doctoral candidates, largely because most Masters students who do some coursework will have time off between semesters.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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