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Due to the recent COVID-19 event, all of the members in our group have been working at home. My advisor proposed to get us some items to make us more productive or happy when working at home. I feel like a tablet would be very helpful in reading paper and books. Additionally, I'm working home using my small laptop and the screen is really small. It also helps if I could get a large screen to connect to my laptop. I have a bit of a quandary because those things are kind of not really necessary because, after all, I can use my laptop to read paper and work. On the other hand, they are not cheap. Would it be selfish for me to ask my advisor to fund me to get a monitor and tablet, those things?

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    Better to ask your supervisor. Personally, I would suggest that an external monitor would be more practical (my desk at home is covered in them). – Anonymous Physicist Apr 5 at 3:22
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    Do you know approx. what's his budget? – Quora Feans Apr 5 at 12:03
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    I think those are the exact things your advisor has in mind. It'd make your work easier and more comfortable. – Issel Apr 5 at 16:26
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    Realize that the cost of your lost productivity in the long term outweighs the cost of any technical aid. Especially working on a bigger monitor will make a significant difference. And your supervisor is even willing to include the happiness factor! – Bernhard Apr 6 at 8:45
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    I beg to differ, an extra screen for your laptop is cheap, and once you get used to working with two displays, you'll wonder how you ever were productive with one. – Neil_UK Apr 6 at 16:38
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Would it be selfish for me to ask my advisor to fund me to get a monitor and tablet, those things?

Not at all! It is never selfish to ask, though it might be selfish to insist, and it might likewise be selfish if you did not make it clear that you understand your advisor has the final say in this.

It is an odd feeling asking your advisor to pay for things for you, isn't it? Many students are afraid of coming across as entitled, but the better approach is to be matter-of-fact and professional about it. Simply explain (in a short message to your advisor)

  1. The item(s) you want to get;

  2. In a nutshell (1 sentence), why this item would help you be more productive and comfortable working at home;

  3. The specific estimate on price or price range.

Don't phrase it as a demand; just state what you are thinking of, and then ask: "Would it be possible to reimburse this item?"

My advisor proposed to get us some items to make us more productive or happy when working at home.

Based on your this, I agree with the top answer that it is overwhelmingly likely your advisor will be fine with getting you these items. But articulating (1), (2), and (3) above will help make this more concrete, and phrasing it as a question makes it easy for your advisor to say no if they think that one of the items is excessive.

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  • This is wrong. Asking for something above what is reasonable is taking advantage of the person who might not have the ability to say no. – VSO Apr 7 at 15:53
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    @VSO How is it taking advantage to ask? They can simply say no. The professor is the one to blame if they grant an unreasonable requests, but this particular request is highly reasonable. Note that the professor is the one in the position of power; if it were the professor asking the student, then it would be a different story. – 6005 Apr 7 at 16:28
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    @VSO First of all, asking an honest question is not being spoiled (demanding would be spoiled). Second, there are many reasons why having a tablet during the pandemic could be very helpful to accomplish research more efficiently. Your premise that this is an unreasonable request is false. In fact, it is unreasonable not to ask out of some preconceived idea that the advisor doesn't want to buy the item, when perhaps buying such items is precisely the advisor's intention. – 6005 Apr 7 at 21:49
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    @VSO If the OP suggests rather than asks, does that address your concern? I.e., the OP could simply say, "here's a list of things I've thought of that I believe would help," explaining for each one why it would help, without specifically saying "Please buy me X and Y." That seems to be what this answer is aiming at. – cjs Apr 8 at 2:23
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    "explaining for each one why it would help" I think this would make it better, since it gives the person handling the request a reasonable out if they need it. – VSO Apr 8 at 13:12
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Surely these are precisely the sorts of things that your advisor envisaged buying when they offered to get "items to make you more productive or happy working at home"? A decent monitor (and keyboard, and mouse) for your laptop are fairly essential if you're going to be using it all day every day for the next N months. A tablet is perhaps a bit more of a luxury, but hardly excessive. Remember, as a fraction of the total cost of supporting a PhD student, an iPad is small change.

If you're concerned, phrase your email making it clear that you are presenting a list of suggestions rather than demands, as you're not sure how much money the advisor will want to spend.

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    You made a good suggestion, Avid. Thank you! – Frank Apr 5 at 0:00
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    In addition to this, I would note that you need to think of these as implements to do your research better. The fact that you are asking this suggests that somewhere you have a niggle that you may use these for more "selfish" purposes. It is up to you to ensure that you make adequate use of these tools for research. – Kapil Apr 5 at 4:30
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    It doesn't need to be an iPad. There are plenty of nice reading tablets that are very affordable and, although they don't have the ripping performance of a $$$$ model, they're more than fine for reading papers and books. Same goes for a desktop monitor - a business grade 24" screen can be had for almost pocket change. – J... Apr 5 at 11:10
  • @Tim: Perhaps not all iPads are $$$$, but even the cheapest is still $$: tomsguide.com/us/best-ipad-and-ipad-pro-deals,news-29280.html 10-inch tablets from Samsung, ASUS, &c that are perfectly adequate for reading can be had for half to a third the price of the cheapest iPad. – jamesqf Apr 6 at 16:38
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It probably depends on the funding source or grant and the cost of the item.

Beware that in principle stuff purchased through a grant does not belong to an individual but to the grant organization or to the Uni administering the grant. (Our work computers have a Uni sticker on them and are part of the official institutional inventory.) Thus, you may have to return said item once the situation is closer to normal.

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Not selfish at all, since that's apparently what the advisor wants. I would make a prioritized "wish list" of things that would help you work better, and suggest that everyone else in the group does the same. Then the advisor can see how much of that can be done within budget.

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Many universities would allow staff to take home computer monitors and keyboards to work from home. This would not cost your PI anything.

Asking for a tablet may be reasonable, but it depends on how often it is essential for your core tasks.

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A tablet (particularly if it has an Apple logo on it) is expensive. And it won't have a bigger screen than your existing laptop. But a 22" external monitor is quite cheap, as is a full-size USB keyboard. Isn't this exactly the sort of thing you're being offered?

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    I have a 30" screen that was very cheap. Even a wireless keyboard is pretty cheap. But an (apple logo) tablet has a lot more functionality, including portability. – Buffy Apr 5 at 13:01
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    @Buffy: Apple tablets are no more portable (as a physical object) than other brands, and might well be less portable in terms of OS, applications, and connectivity. – jamesqf Apr 5 at 15:49
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I can't comment so will give full answer here. Regarding tablet, I ordinarily consider it a luxury but we are in different times now.

I myself have currently lot of tabs open "to read later" with tutorials and interesting stuff related to work which I intend to read and try to lessen my technical knowledge debt. However, since I don't go out (it really depends on your neighborhood, time outside, lots of doors to open in apartment, and my wife is quite worried, we have a child etc) I don't move much, so it has become considerable effort sitting in front of computer. Having tablet would help quite a bit because you can change positions and continue to read on the bed, sofa, park outside or wherever. My wife is happy using her Samsung Galaxy Tab T590 which is not fast but has big screen for easier browsing. Just make sure to pick something which has biggish screen.

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