I'm part of a two person team that's in charge of the data science efforts of our company. My boss and I get along fantastically, and the only reason for my leaving is to take some time off in order to study/prepare for my PhD in the fall. The problem is that he is expecting to go on paternal leave for the entirety of June.

Part of this prep involves focusing on getting my mental health as well-adjusted as possible. I've been working for almost 2 years non-stop, usually 12-15 hour days. This will likely also be the case for my PhD, so I want some time off to be selfish and focus on myself in the months leading the PhD.

The next question is, why can't I just suck it up and stay for the entirety of June and then leave once he gets back in July? My answer to this is that I don't think July/August is long enough for me to focus on my mental health/studying before the PhD. Additionally, while my boss is fantastic I'm utterly burned out from my job and every day that I spend here makes the time required to recuperate my mental health a much harder task.

Ideally I would have June/July/August to focus on these things.

If I were to leave before the paternal leave, it would mean the team essentially dies, or that he would have to work from home or forgo his privilege to paternal leave. Neither of us are easily replaced, as in the training and experience we have are incredibly unique in the market place - it would take a new team member maybe a year or so before output is at the level they were pre- my departure.

Every day I waste not discussing this with him, the larger the impact will be when I leave. I want this discussion to happen by next week, I just need some help navigating what my moral and professional obligations are.

As a side note, my boss knows I was accepted into the PhD program, and the company I work for and the university that accepted me have offered the possibility of letting me continue at my current job in a more limited capacity while doing my PhD full time. I'm very lucky to have such a supportive company, university, and boss... but this is honestly impossible for me to do. I'm very close to a breaking point, and my depression is reaching a level that is making me worried for myself. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • 4
    Ethical obligations are fairly personal and opinion based. Professional obligations are whatever your contract states about leave/notice. You may get better help if you can state a specific objective or goal, and ask a specific question about it. Right now, your question is pretty open-ended and hard to answer per the Stack Exchange model.
    – dwizum
    May 4, 2018 at 17:24
  • 2
    If you are close enough to burnout that you need months off, your boss is not fantastic.
    – user29390
    May 4, 2018 at 19:51
  • Are you in the US? I am not a lawyer, but generally in the US, you or your company can terminate your employment at-will. I think it's important to note that you don't owe the company anything. The fact you have to take time off between work and your PhD, because you feel overworked indicates something is wrong. If your relationship with your boss is indeed so great, he should understand that it is not your obligation to stay at a company longer, because he is going on paternity leave.
    – jcmack
    May 4, 2018 at 21:12
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    Not only shouldn't you work 12-15 hours a day now, you don't need to do that when doing a PhD either. Stop killing yourself by overwork, and start working reasonable hours.
    – Simon B
    May 4, 2018 at 22:51
  • 1
    What is your legal status? Are you a slave or an employee? In 2nd case, is there a legal obligation to work in your country? Do PhD counts as work then? If you are not a slave and it is allowed to do PhD without having an employement, then ethics are not relevant - you are free to chose the life path that fits the best for you.
    – user50700
    May 7, 2018 at 8:10

2 Answers 2


Leave at the time that suits you best, do not concern yourself with the minor inconvenience this may have upon your employer.

  1. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you need to focus on reducing stress and improving your mental health first. I would argue that this is your most important ethical obligation in this situation as the longer you allow it to continue like this, your recovery may take longer and be harder on yourself and others. This is in everyone's best interest as any reasonable employer will recognize that burned out, unhealthy employees are not productive.

  2. Your belief that "If I were to leave before the paternal leave, it would mean the team essentially dies, or that he would have to work from home or forgo his privilege to paternal leave." is probably incorrect. The team won't die. Everything will be fine. If the person on paternity leave needs to do some work from home, that's not that big a deal. People do it all the time. Your mental health deteriorating is a big deal.


You have NO obligation to your employer outside of what your contract dictates.

This means you request to take leave when you need to, regardless of what position this leaves the company in. This means you should hand in your resignation when you need to, and work the notice period that your contract requires, even if that means that the company will get in trouble. This is not your responsibility as an employee.

This also goes for the amount of hours you have been working. All you're obliged to do is work the amount of hours your contract specifies. If you've been working more hours, but your situation has changed and you no longer can or want to work that many hours, you don't owe anyone anything and should simply start working the contractual amount of hours.

This is especially true when the situation is starting to affect your health, be it physical or mental. You've been overtaxing your mind and body for a long time it seems. My personal advice would be to resign today, spend your notice period working the exact hours written in your contract and let the company worry about the company. Three months may not even be enough to recover, this is not the sort of thing that can wait.

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