Partner in prison: what to tell academic colleagues and friends?



I've posted this in 'off-topic' as it isn't directly about the PhD but is about academic life, culture and colleagues.

My partner was recently sentenced to 12 weeks in prison for dangerous driving. Fortunately nobody was hurt but he did a terrible thing and has accepted that this is a consequence of what he did and since the offence some months ago, he has worked hard to turn his life around and sort out his issues.

I am now faced with the uncertainty over what to tell my academic colleagues if anything. I have already been asked once this week on a social outing and soon people will begin to ask about plans for christmas. I'm very hesitant to share the truth in an environment where almost everyone is my superior and may well have a say in my future at the university. Then again, the shock of the sentence has caused some stress and I did slip behind with some things. Everything is complicated by the fact that some colleagues/PhD students are also friends who I would want to be open with but would fear gossip, judgement or just making them feel awkward.

Any thoughts?

Many thanks,




Sorry to hear about this. If you aren't comfortable telling them then don't tell them; it is entirely your business and not theirs. You could come up with some excuses if directly asked about things like plans for Christmas; or you could just say some of your plans and omit the fact that your partner is in prison.

You could share it confidentially with your supervisor if you want to explain that an external situation has affected your work. Or you could just say that (an external situation/a family issue) without going into detail about what it actually is.


Avatar for Eska

Hi GM,

They don't need to know. Colleagues usually are not our friends. We can be friendly but it's rare they turn out to be proper true trust-with-your-life pals. If I were you I think I would be creative with the truth. As has already been said tell people what you are doing - but not what you're not doing. So you might say 'I'm going to be with family' end of.

I have an awkward situation every Christmas and this what I do, and it's fine. Even if someone thinks it sounds odd I've never asked outright 'isn't so and so happening?'. I've had quizical looks but that's it. And they wash off!


He should be out in 6 weeks I think so it should not affect Christmas?



My experience differs from Eska's in that some of my colleagues over the years have been (and still are) genuine friends. If you have one or two who are genuine friends and you feel you can really trust them, then you should be able to tell them if you want to talk about it. After all, that is what friends are for. But there is a difference between "friends" in a collegial way (e.g., meet for coffee, have lunch now and then, chat in the kitchen) and genuine friends... if they were genuine friends I guess you wouldn't have any doubts about telling them and knowing that it would go no further. If you fear gossip then best to keep quiet and talk to real friends outside of uni.


I would make something up. There's no kind of work relationship that requires this much honesty.


Agree with the above. I am not sure why anyone would want or need to know this sort of thing.
I would certainly never talk about my wife to that extent with anyone.