Is it ethical for PhD advisor to collect ideas or even project description text from students/postdocs for his/her own funding proposal? Not sure how common this situation is, but this seems strange. Could anyone help?

  • How are you funding your research? Not just stipend, everything?
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 5, 2021 at 19:03
  • 2
    Will the students benefit in some way if a project that they contribute to is funded? I'm afraid you may be thinking of research as a zero-sum game.
    – Buffy
    Mar 5, 2021 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


In many places, your stipend (including overhead) as well as the costs of running the lab, buying computers, publishing papers, and traveling to conferences all comes out of your PI's budget. That budget does not magically appear, but is funded through grants. Those grants have some leeway in what work they might support, but not infinite latitude.

So: going forward do you want to be supported? If so, would you not prefer to be supported to do something that you want to do, rather than whatever your advisor can get funding for without any help from you?

So, yes, it is entirely ethical for your professor/PI/advisor to ask you for ideas and even text to contribute to the grant application. Should you have no desire to help procure funding for the group to work on problems of interest to you, you really need to contemplate just how you are currently funded.

  • I understand this answer but I'm not enamored with it because it implies (perhaps unintentionally) that phd students are obligated to bring in money. My opinion is that PhD students are here to learn and the burden of lab funding should not fall on them. Effort to get money really should be spent on fellowships, not lab money.
    – user133933
    Mar 6, 2021 at 0:16
  • @Libor - on the one hand, yes, the burden should not be on the student. But not wanting to provide any input is also troubling. Why wouldn’t the PI ask the group for input? Let’s just hope the OP isn’t back here in a while wondering why they can’t work on whatever they want rather than what the PI needs for the grant agencies. I’ve had staff who don’t want to work on projects I can give them, but won’t go get funding to do what they want - I have little sympathy for them (not university).
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 6, 2021 at 2:46

Part of your training is learning how to write competitive funding applications. Contributing to them is part of your training and doing so early in your career generally means you're working for someone who's good at training. Being asked to write a funding proposal in it's entirely for your supervisor to sign would be inappropriate.

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