Help Dr. X take their vacation!

Dr. X is a Lecturer at the University of Waterloo who teaches three terms a year. They are finding it difficult to take their four weeks of annual vacation entitlement, to be scheduled in blocks at least one week long.

The challenge

  • Can you help Dr. X find four one-week blocks of vacation time in the 2021-22 academic year? Share your results in the comments below.
The 2021-22 academic calendar, with academic dates from the Registrar’s important dates tool and paid holidays from the Human Resources website.

The 2021-22 academic calendar, with academic dates from the Registrar’s important dates tool and paid holidays from the Human Resources website.

Considerations and constraints

  • Dr. X has an exam scheduled on April 23; marking the exam and submitting final grades will take approximately four days.
  • Dr. X would like to attend their sister’s wedding in BC on July 3.
  • Dr. X’s family has been offered a cottage rental from August 8–21; Dr. X would like to join their family.
  • Dr. X has been assigned a new course in fall 2022 and needs time to prepare it.
  • Statutory holidays don’t count toward vacation time.
  • Dr. X’s chair needs to agree on the timing of each block of vacation ahead of time.


  • Does Dr. X still have adequate time for marking and course prep, without doing any work during their vacation?
  • Would Dr. X be able to take two weeks off at a time?
  • What would make it easier for Dr. X to take their full vacation entitlement?

Share your results and reflections in the comments!

Bonus round

  • For bonus points, help Dr. Y take their five weeks of vacation entitlement. Dr. Y is entitled to five weeks since they have been at Waterloo for more than 10 years.
  • Extra bonus points: Help Dr. Z take seven weeks of vacation—their five-week entitlement, plus the two weeks they carried forward from the previous year.

What this is about

Workload for teaching faculty is one of the issues that the FAUW team hopes to discuss in the revision process for Policy 76 – Faculty Appointments and Policy 77 – Promotion and Tenure.

Workload is a complex issue. For Lecturers, it intersects with vacation access because—as you saw with Dr. X—teaching three terms a year leaves very little time for meaningful vacation.

It is true that Waterloo is a three-term university, unlike many of our comparator institutions. It is also true that UW has enjoyed the flexibility of assigning work to Lecturers in all three terms. But what if flexibility means a lack of access to vacations? Can teaching workload be assigned more fairly?

What is clear is that teaching-stream faculty members deserve to take the annual vacations that allow us all a chance to rest and relax, to connect with family and friends, and to come back to work refreshed. Work-life balance is something we hear a lot about these days. Teaching faculty at UW deserve this balance as well.

23 thoughts on “Help Dr. X take their vacation!

  1. I LOVE this. The way it is framed, the issues it highlights. Beautifully done! Thank you!! ________________________________


      1. True, but as we’ve seen remote learning can happen effectively. They could pre-record 1 or 2 lectures to cover the first week of July.


  2. Very interesting post! Proper implementation of the non-teaching term, which is already in Policy 76 but extremely poorly worded (hence vague and open to interpretation), would be one solution. Comparable schools (e.g. University of Toronto) have two semesters per year, but their teaching faculty are also entitled to sabbaticals. These together will help to avoid potential burnout for Dr. X and Dr. Y (and also more productivity and professional growth, but that is a discussion for another time).

    More importantly, this problem sounds like a legal issue. Can an institution actually offer vacation days on paper but not accommodate it? Maybe more informed colleagues can comment on this? It seems that Dr. X and Dr. Y need legal advice as well as help with their teaching schedules 🙂 In my opinion, recording a couple of weeks of lectures ahead of time does not really offer a solution because teaching is more than just delivering lectures (virtual or in-person).


  3. I’ve taught 6 courses/year, 3 terms/year since around 2004, with the exception of one non-teaching term. My spouse has a “normal” job, with similar seniority, and has only just now earned 4 weeks per year, instead of 3.

    I’ve always considered myself lucky to have my job, and have never had trouble finding time for at least 2 consecutive weeks off in August, as well as usually one week in April, and the rest spread out. And for us, the Christmas closure doesn’t even count, so we actually have more than 4 weeks in total.

    I think we’re all very lucky, and I personally have nothing to complain about. Also, with respect to planning for a new course, I manage my time so that, by mid-August, the autoreply goes on and I am truly off work for a couple of weeks.


    1. This is great and I love to have colleagues who are proud and happy about what they do. I would like to encourage you though to take a look at the teaching-stream appointments at the University of Toronto, McMaster, SFU, UBC, York (you name it!) and check the accommodations and perks they offer their teaching-stream faculty. I leave it up to you to make a judgment based on the comparison, but it is good to have a point of reference as to where we are standing relative to our competitors. It is not all about lecturers or other faculty members wanting more. It is very much also about making teaching-stream appointments more attractive so that we are competitive relative to institutions similar to us. Improving teaching-stream appointments (better say creating them at UW) is a win-win scenario for the employee and the University.


  4. The pandemic has shown us that it is possible to make schedule changes previously deemed impossible… since term length cannot be reduced and I suspect study breaks are now sacrosanct, the only meaningful target is to reduce the length of the exam period….

    I might add an additional constraint: Dr X may like to participate in the major annual event for the University’s teaching community – the annual teaching and learning conference, usually scheduled in the last week of April.


  5. I’ve looked at these schedules many times as a Dr X myself. Only chance is to get lucky with an early exam in the set period. Otherwise, you’re pretty much out of luck.


  6. I intend to begin using my vacation time during the term using recorded lectures to cover classes missed. Period. Great article!


  7. I appreciate the framing of this, and the concerns of 3-term-teaching faculty, the vast majority of whom are lecturers, unless a faculty member accepts–by choice or coercion–to give up their non-teaching term. As a “regular” faculty member, I have always struggled to take my allotted vacation time, even though I only teach two terms of the year.

    Without diminishing the struggles that 3-term-teachers have, this needs to fit into a broader conversation on campus about expectations, overwork culture, and wellness.


    1. Just a friendly reminder: according to Policy 76, Lecturers are, indeed, regular faculty, but I assume you meant tenure-track/tenured as opposed to lecturer when you used the term “regular faculty.”
      Also, the problem here is that if a faculty member who does not teach every semester decides to have a vacation with their family, they do have the option… it may be inconvenient due to their work, but it is a possibility. The question is the do those lecturers who teach 3 semesters a year have the option of using 5 weeks of vacation (and with the carry forward of 2 weeks, potentially 7 weeks) in a given year? I am not arguing whether this amount of time is too little or too much. I am just saying that if the employer offers it and advertises such a thing, taking advantage of it should be a possibility, otherwise, it does not make any sense.


      1. Thanks for correcting the language, you are right that this is what I meant. And yes, I understand the problem here. I’m just pointing out another aspect of it (like I said in my post). I’ll go back to my work and be quiet now. Thanks.


  8. The importance of a non-teaching term for faculty to be able to devote time to work on course development and for involvement in professional development, academic conferences etc. to the quality of the coursework provided to UW students during teaching terms should not be overlooked or underestimated. Not only does a 3 term teaching load leave very little time available for vacation but also leaves very little time for professional development and course development work which is critical to the quality of the courses/programs offered at UW. Sabbaticals would also be helpful in that respect. If we want to have top quality programming and teaching, teaching faculty need to have time available to think about continuous improvement, updating skills and downtime to recharge.


  9. Thanks for bringing this very important issue to light. There are a lot of ideas in the comments to chew on. I’ll highlight three:

    1. I’m fortunate enough to have a teaching workload that allows me to take my vacation this year; however I’ve seen my colleagues struggle in scheduling their vacation and dealing with burnout (particularly in these trying times!). Pushing for positive change at UW means looking beyond one’s own personal situation, acknowledging the privileges one has, and advocating alongside those who may be disadvantaged by the system.

    2. I have doubts (though I would love to be proven wrong) that Chairs/Deans/etc would be pleased with lecturers recording lectures and leaving for a vacation in the middle of term. Personally, I would be worried about ramifications of doing so on both student course perception surveys and on my annual performance review.

    3. Workload is a huge issue at UW. Many other institutions (e.g. UofT , University of Ottawa, and UBC have explicit workload policies for faculty members. Defining an appropriate workload for faculty members would go a long way in helping us balance work and life responsibilities. Of course, this is an issue that affects both lecturers and tenure-track faculty. Though this is likely beyond the scope of the current policy negotiations, I would love to see similar efforts at UW as we seem to be trailing.


  10. Let me offer an answer that fulfills all constraints of the original problem, but requires advanced planning and admittedly a bit of a culture shift.

    #1. June 28 to July 8 (9 days vacation). Dr. X is teaching during that time, so Dr. X’s chair should assign someone to cover Dr. X’s lectures. This assignment should be done prior to the spring term, so that Dr. X can coordinate with the supply instructor way in advance.

    #2. August 15 to August 26 (10 days vacation). The University needs to make sure Dr. X’s final exam is in the first week of exams. Since Dr. X is teaching all terms, this is something the RO works in their priority. This would give Dr. X’s the 2nd week of exams to grade their exam and submit final grade.

    This gives already four one-week block of vacation time, as prescribed by the initial problem. Admittedly, one of those weeks include a holiday, so that gives Dr. X an extra day to move somewhere else in the year.

    Let me turn to the problem that Dr. X needs to have adequate time for course preparation for the new course in fall 2022. Well, it seems that this is known even before the start of the 2021-22 academic year, so time must be allocated through the year for this preparation, as Dr. X should not count on any time in August 2022 for this preparation. This is certainly doable, but requires discipline. Dr. X’s chair should remind Dr. X in September and/or January that their expectation is that Dr. X will not be able to prepare that course in August due to wrapping the spring term and taking vacations, and that is why they assign the new course very early.

    I have however not solved the bonus problem. In fact, the solution offered in my point 1 could be used to find vacation time in other terms as well.

    #3. March n to (n+5) (5 days vacation). Dr. X is teaching during that time, so Dr. X’s chair should assign someone to cover Dr. X’s lectures. If Dr. X has young children, they probably would enjoy a week with them in March during their spring break. This assignment should be done prior to the winter term, so that Dr. X can coordinate with the supply instructor way in advance.

    There you go. By now I have found 5 weeks.

    I should point out two obstacles in implementing #1 and #3:

    a) other instructors may not be willing to cover. This can be solved in two ways: one could pay to have that coverage, or the culture of the department could be altered so that it is normal for people to cover each other’s vacations (after all, this is how it is done in almost every other type of jobs)

    b) Dr. X is not willing to allow another instructor to drive their course for one week or two.

    Obstacle b is the real one. It requires a major culture shift, and certainly requires reassurance from the institution that SCPS are not driving performance evaluation. I see CTAPT’s work as a precursor to creating that sort of culture.


    1. Re option #2: Dr. X is teaching the same group of students as Dr. Y, and Dr. Z. All three request an early final exam in August hoping to schedule a vacation. Dr. Z’s exam is scheduled on the first day, Dr. Y’s exam is two days later, and Dr. X is told, maybe next year.


    2. To add to C’s comment RE #2: Since final exam schedules are not released until roughly midway through the term, Dr. Z and Dr. Y will have to schedule flights on relatively short notice, which is usually not great for their wallets.

      In addition to positing a system that is currently not in place, the solution presented also assumes that Dr. X’s Chair is extremely on top of things, that course allocations are done well in advance (I’ve witnessed course assignments happen on days’ notice), and that Dr. X has time to prep for August while they are juggling their usual teaching load (unless Dr. X is fortunate to receive a non-teaching term that they don’t have to pay back?).

      RE a): I do hope that the solution would be to pay for coverage. Having department members cover for each other means that everyone essentially “pays back” their vacation by covering for someone else’s.


  11. Your obstacle b) is certainly a situational roadblock, but I would argue that the “real problem” is that this system of supply instructors does not exist, and all of this requires much more operational planning / coordination, especially in course allocations. I DO think that a supply system is something we’re sorely in need of.

    I’m sure there are several lecturers (myself included) that would enjoy both having a supply instructor and filling that role in exchange for some course allocations. Beyond the quality of life benefits it would provide (vacation, easier sick days, etc), a supply instructor would get to teach some courses (briefly) that they may not have otherwise or at least not in a long time. That depends on the capacity of the unit, of course.

    All of this drives home the point of this blog: this mechanism doesn’t exist as it stands, so Dr. X is in quite a bind next year.


  12. In the last 10 years, teaching every term, I don’t think I’ve ever kept track of my vacation time or had any of it approved by a chair in advance. Is that weird or do others have similar experience?
    I usually take my time off during reading week and in between classes and exams (if my exam is late) and/or between exams and the next term (if my exam is early.) Or even just a day here and there when I don’t have any classes. One of the nice things about a job with so much flexibility is I’m able to have lots of little breaks. But it would indeed be difficult to take a large chunk of vacation at a time that isn’t these specific built-in windows.


    1. I have also never submitted vacation plans for chair approval. Then again, I’ve had many years where I couldn’t take any vacation other than the day off here and there that you mention. Even years when I’ve had a non-teaching term it’s sometimes been too full to take time off.
      Like you, I definitely appreciate having a job with the flexibiltiy to take a day here and there. But I find those days off usually happen unexpectedly because I’m just too exhausted and burned out to be able to sit down and engage with students or course material. Not exactly what I think of when I think “vacation”.


  13. Relatively new lecturer here. Frankly, I am more concerned with making sure that I still have a job after the next round of renewals, so I haven’t put too much thought into a proper vacation yet. To be truthful, I am shamefully oblivious about the “official” rules regarding vacation at UW. “Unofficially”, I feel that my best bet is to do 3+2+2 one year, followed by 3+0+2 the next, and then take time off during the “0”. Also, half of my folks live a continent away, so I wouldn’t even bother with flying out to visit them for a one week vacation.


  14. The folks “figuring it out” and finding a solution here seem to me to be missing the point. It shouldn’t be this hard, and you shouldn’t only be able to take vacation during ONE set of possible times determined entirely by your employer and fixed into an unchanging schedule. Workers should be able to take time off at a time of their choosing at least occasionally. We shouldn’t cede to the employer that kind of power, the power of making the sole determinant of when we get to spend time with our families and friends.

    My solution would be a) to note that 1-in-6 is “at least” 1-in-6 and can be more. B) Teaching loads do not need to be balanced over a 2-year period, but could be balanced over longer windows of time. Consider how a 3-year time frame could allow for 2 terms off in 3 years (someone with a base load of 7, now teaches 8 in year 1 and 6 in year 2 (3-3-2; 3-3-0). Work that out to be 21 over 3 and you could do something like (3-3-3; 3-3-0; 3-3-0). Granted, that instructor would still be unable to take her full vacation in year 1, but it’s better.


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