Can I defer starting?


I am a mature student hoping to return to uni to do a PhD. I’ve been invited for interview for an amazing MRC funded PhD due to start in September. Since applying I have found out that I’m pregnant with my second child (which I am over the moon about!) but the PhD starts about a week before my due date. Does anyone know if it is possible to defer starting a PhD for up to 12 months (guess this will depend upon uni and MRC but in general has anyone done it)? I don’t know whether to go along for interview as it’s good experience either way, then if I am offered the PhD raise the topic then (but risk annoying people?) or whether to find out before interview but risk being discriminated against even if deferred entry is possible. Thanks for any advice, I am in a quandary!

Avatar for rewt

I would ask if and after you get an offer. They will probably discriminate against you if you say before. But they can be flexible with start time depending on circumstances. From my limited experience deferments, breaks etc are case by case basis but are generally fair.


I think that you may annoy your supervisor and potentially have a pretty unpleasant PhD as a result if you intend to delay your PhD by a year after getting it. Supervisors normally have very limited funding and may be relying on papers generated from your PhD to get the grants for the following year. Hence, delay start = no paper = no grant = unhappy supervisor.

I would suggest being up front about it, even if it means that you may be discriminated against. When you have been offered a verbal offer, tell the supervisor along the lines that you want to check with him if he is ok with you starting later. If he says he can't wait, then that is your answer. Since you are not in a hurry, you can then look at other opportunities during your maternity leave.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

Perhaps as a man, I'm probably not the best person to advise here. However, if you declare your pregnancy after a successful interview I believe you may be protected by employment law and thus your maternity leave entitlement may delay the start of the PhD.

I can see how this might annoy a potential supervisor, that said, so it may make things uncomfortable for you when you finally start. That said, leagally, you have a case if you face discrimiation on this basis.

Morally, you should tell potential supervisors at interview, however, legally the pregnancy should not affect or influence the interview or be relevant to it I believe due to UK and EU employment law. That said, it may be better if someone can clarify if this also applies to PhDs.

Slightly off topic (but this may help here), I know of a case where there were two rounds of redundancy at a given company. Because on both occasions a woman who would have ordinarily been on the list of those to be considered fell pregnant, she was not considered due to the company not able to show conclusively her redundacy was due to her position no longer being required rather than her pregnancy, they opted to may someone else redundant in both cases rather than risk fighting a potentially costly and public legal battle.

The law will protect pregnant women in the workplace (and also partners wanting paternity leave), however, whether this extends to PhD scolarships is for me a grey area and as I said some clarification may need to be sought.