I am currently on a leave of absence from my PhD. I would like to describe myself as an "[adjective] grad student", where [adjective] means something like "once, and destined to be again". Ideally it would have the flavor of words like "erstwhile" or "nascent". Does such an adjective exist?

  • 12
    The idiomatic standard form here is the once and future king, not the once, and eventually to be again king. Commented Jan 10 at 11:38
  • 8
    ... but it would sound whimsical to use it for everyday situations. ?! Once and future PhD student. Probably best avoided. There aren't single words for everything; 'PhD student on sabbatical' seems appropriate. Commented Jan 10 at 12:00
  • once-and-eventually-again graduate student. Love those phrasal adjectives with hyphens.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 10 at 17:17
  • @EdwinAshworth, using sabbatical in this context may be problematic because in the academic world it stands for a leave from teaching that full time academics take in order to devote themselves to research full time. Devoting oneself full-time to research is, however, precisely what one is supposed to do anyway while one is a graduate student (who is not on a leave); one doesn't take a leave from being a student to do that.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:50
  • 1
    You are a former and future graduate student.
    – kjhughes
    Commented Jan 11 at 0:03

10 Answers 10


The best way to convey that one is a graduate student on leave is to just say that one is a graduate student on leave. If the leave is of a particular kind, one may specify that as well, by saying that one is e.g. a graduate student on medical leave. There is, of course, often no need to use such a compact formulation; one may instead explain the matter at greater length (e.g. 'I have been working on my doctorate since 2021, but this academic year I am on leave because . . .').

Trying hard to be lighthearted about the matter by using some less precise but more creative formulation is only going to make people wonder what the actual nature of one's position is, and leave the impression that one is intentionally obscuring it because one feels awkward about it.

Some of the other terms proposed on this page are ambiguous between being on leave (which implies that one is expected to resume one's studies at the end of the leave and that one will be able to do so without applying for readmission) and, on the other side, having dropped out of one's studies and merely hoping to resume them one day. Saying that one is on leave makes it clear that the former is the case, and one would usually want to make that clear, if it really is the case.

If the leave is short (a matter of weeks), so that one's research is not significantly interrupted, and if one's formal status is not relevant to the conversation, it may be OK to just say that one is a graduate student and not mention the leave, but that would be misleading if the leave is longer.

Incidentally, saying that one is a graduate student on leave (or however else one conveys that) will be taken to imply that one is not currently engaged in any definite pursuit, unless that pursuit is mentioned at the same time (e.g. 'I am currently on leave from graduate studies because I am preparing for the Olympics.)


I like the idiom from the comments, "once and future". Seems witty and fun, appropriate for one with education accomplishments going toward another education goal.

Used to categorize someone or something as having an enduring, eternal quality or status. A play on The Once and Future King, a series of novels about the legendary King Arthur.

But the real star is John Smith as Falstaff, Shakespeare's once and future comic rogue. The once and future icon of the puppet world, Elmo, is recognizable in just about every country on the planet.

  • 2
    "Once and Future King" implies a return to kingship in a mythical future hundreds or thousands of years after the original. Do you wish to imply that you will take up your PhD again in a mythical future hundreds or thousands of years after you started it? Commented Jan 11 at 17:03
  • 1
    Yeah, I love the phrase “once and future” and thought of it immediately at the title, but I do not think it would be appropriate in this instance.
    – KRyan
    Commented Jan 12 at 2:59
  • I would also argue that idiomatically the expression is "the once and future", not "a once and future". Ex: "Arthur is the once and future king." I would avoid it unless you consider yourself "the grad student".
    – JamesFaix
    Commented Jan 12 at 3:11

For a single-word adjective, paused may be adequate. It conveys that you still have the status, but are not presently making any progress, though are still prepared to do so in the future. It's not a common usage of this word but surely is accurate.

If you'd entertain a phrase, on hiatus would be both correct and idiomatic.

  • 1
    This probably doesn't have the 'flavour' that the OP is looking for, but may, in fact, be better for his purposes than something that has it. Paused fairly accurately conveys the information about the OP's position, without trying to be cutesy about it. Using some more creative formulation will only lead people to think that the OP feels awkward about the situation.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:42

Sometime is a common adjective in this context. Merriam-Webster defines it:

1 : having been formerly : FORMER, LATE

2 : being so occasionally or in only some respects

a sometime father

It's often used for a former or occasional position. In the past it was commonly just used to mean "former" but today it has less of a sense of finality, by association with "sometimes".

  • I really like this suggestion. The highest body of my former college is officially the Provost, Fellows and Scholars. When, as an undergraduate, I was promoted to a Scholar (from being an Exhibitioner), it was pointed out to me that after graduating, I should describe myself as a sometime Scholar. The point being that although no longer studying, in the (extremely) unlikely event of the top body being summoned, I would be entitled to attend and vote, thus re-activating my standing as a Scholar. Commented Jan 13 at 12:06

You can say you are a graduate student but are on sabbatical, which has colloquially come to be understood as any lengthy break from the normal course of a career-related activity.

Edited with included research:

Doctoral candidates are entitled to sabbaticals at many universities globally:

Bet you didn’t know that graduate school sabbaticals exist—they do. If you’re thinking about one, or in the middle of one, you should know how to prepare for a soft landing once you return.

One thing to remember? It’s not a vacation—it’s a time for you to work on projects that are important to you and the work you’re doing at your institution.

Furthermore, many corporations even offer funding for such sabbaticals:

The research team at the Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence (BCAI) provides the opportunity for candidates currently enrolled as PhD students in machine learning, computer vision, or a related field to perform an 'industry sabbatical' for 3-12 months. At BCAI we build the foundation to generate real-world impact through cutting-edge research focusing on safe, robust, data-efficient, and explainable AI. We design and implement AI for smart, connected, and autonomous technologies across Bosch business sectors. During the industry sabbatical you will get the chance to develop and implement novel algorithms, and evaluate them on multi-modal open and Bosch datasets.

  • 5
    This is on the right track, because the OP is indeed a student on some kind of a leave, but the use of the word sabbatical may be problematic because in the academic world it is normally used with a stricter meaning than the colloquial one it has acquired recently. A sabbatical, in that sense, is a leave from teaching that full time academics take in order to devote themselves to research full time. Devoting oneself to research is precisely what one is supposed to do anyway while one is a graduate student; one doesn't take a leave from being a student to do that.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 10 at 19:07
  • Also, note that this answer was given earlier in a comment by Mr Ashworth. The norms of this site permit incorporating other people's comments into one's answer, but it is customary to acknowledge that that's what one is doing, by saying something like 'As has been noted in a comment by . . . '.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:47
  • 1
    Comments are fair game. I don't need to be reading people's stupid internet handles in the middle of a SE post.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 11 at 12:29
  • 1
    @jsw29 there is no sure-fire of knowing whether Melissa M copied EAshworth's suggestion. They could have come up with their suggestion, which is not particularly outstanding, by themself without reading any of the comments. This type of incident has happened to everyone. If the answer had been copied verbatim, then obviously credit is due. // Melissa, you could look for supporting evidence online to strengthen your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:26
  • 1
    I did not read comments. I read answers, as the comments sections of most websites are normally engaged in tit-for-tat exchanges. If the commenter intended it as an answer, they should have posted it as an answer. Updated research included in edited post above.
    – Melissa M.
    Commented Jan 12 at 10:49

Perhaps abeyant or in abeyance? "Temporarily inactive, stopped, or suspended", according to Collins English Dictionary.

An abeyant grad student.

A grad student in abeyance.

Though perhaps that has a negative connotation, as if you've been suspended for some sort of misdemeanor. Hmm...

Just did a quick Google search for the phrase voluntary abeyance and found a hit! https://brunelstudents.com/pageassets/advice/academicsupport/Advice-Service-Best-Practice-FTS-v1.pdf

...Recommend that the student takes a period of voluntary abeyance (break from studies)

Another option could be the word "adjourn"? Not an adjective, but its definition ("break off with the intenion of resuming later") seems like it would fit here:

I have adjourned my graduate studies.

  • I don't think a person studying can be described as being in abeyance....
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 11 at 16:40

try the word intermittent:

Stopping and starting at intervals.

or the word sojourning:

The act of dwelling in a place for a time; also, the time of abode.


Perennial may take the meaning of "continually recurring", often used to describe plants that flower each year without being replanted. The word also has the meaning of "perpetual", however, so while it does carry the notion of something that never ends, it may or may not imply starts and stops. A perennial student might be one who is always a student, or one who has repeated but intermittent periods of being a student over a long period of time. This also does not capture the notion that the person is currently not exhibiting their perennial quality (on a leave of absence), but merely states that the quality has applied in the past and will in the future. Depending on the context, it could imply a student with a long unbroken history of being a student, or one who is not currently a student but who used to be and intends/expects to be one again.


What about the word “perpetual”?

1 a : continuing forever : EVERLASTING

"perpetual motion"

b : valid for all time

"a perpetual right"

2 : holding something (such as an office) for life or for an unlimited time 2 : occurring continually : indefinitely long-continued

perpetual problems

3 : blooming continuously throughout the season

  • 3
    Perpetual implies constantly, whereas the question describes a gap in the particular status.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:19
  • Perpetual is likely to be taken to imply that the studies will never be completed, which is probably not what the OP's intends.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:34

Prodigal? But it's only like the 5th definition so could be misinterpreted.

One who has returned after an absence.

  • 2
    This student hasn't yet returned, so this adjective seems incorrect to me. Commented Jan 11 at 9:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.