In industry, when someone is hired, it's typical for the employer to pay for the flight costs of the new employee. But when grad students and postdocs are moving to different countries, typically they have to pay with their own money. Why is this the norm in academia and not industry?

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    I don't think this is so much the norm in industry as you think. It's only the norm in particular industries where employers are strongly competing for employees, perhaps only when they are trying to tempt them away from a current employer. Grad students are also only "sort of" employees, depending a bit on the system. In the US for example, they are primarily students, not employees, and just happen to also have a job that comes with tuition remission and a modest stipend.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 13 '21 at 5:23
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    For both of my postdocs (I guess 3 if you count a visiting faculty position I held), I had flights for my partner and I paid for. So I am not sure I agree this is not the norm (I'm only speaking for personal experience here). For grad students, it may depend on the country. I'm not sure why you think a grad student would be considered comparable to being hired in an industry position. Jun 13 '21 at 6:12
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    I don't believe mining workers or steel plant workers get relocation expenses paid for in most of the world, and they are certainly working in industry.
    – gerrit
    Jun 13 '21 at 15:53
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    Every TT offer I had included some money towards moving expenses. The postdoc I had at the time didn't include money for moving expenses, but that has been changed and it now does include money that can be used towards that. Jun 13 '21 at 16:41

The premise of the question is incorrect. Both industry and academia use a variety of strategies for funding moving expenses. The strategies are largely based on niche economic conditions.

In my experience, moving expenses are provided for many postdoc positions, but my experience is not a random sample. The dollar amount varied greatly.

Positions that are easy to fill usually do not come with moving expenses.

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    Postdocs at my national lab get full relocation benefits.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13 '21 at 15:33
  • @JonCuster Which lab? I've never heard of a postdoc with full relocation benefits.
    – Mehta
    Jun 13 '21 at 16:36
  • I know that Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia all relocate postdocs. Standard for all staff-type hires, can be requested for technologists (nominally hired locally, but specific skills are recruited nationally). Not sure about Office of Science labs.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13 '21 at 16:53
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    @JonCuster I know Oak Ridge provides relocation benefits for at least science postdocs and staff.
    – Anyon
    Jun 13 '21 at 17:18
  • @Anyon - seemed likely to me, just no direct knowledge. Certainly AT&T Bell Labs and IBM Research did as well in the old days.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13 '21 at 17:22

As others have said, practices vary considerably. A couple of factors may be at play when academia doesn't pay relocation costs:

  1. Salaries for grad students and postdocs are often derived from grant funding. Typically, funding organisations impose detailed rules about what can, and cannot, be paid for using their money. It may not be possible to pay for relocation from grant funds. Alternatively it may be allowed, but only if the PI thought to include it in the budget when they applied for funding.
  2. Typically, national tax authorities impose strict rules on relocation payments (to avoid them being used as a back-door to paying 'golden handshakes'). Academic institutions tend to be risk-averse and may decide to err on the side of caution here.

Cynically, a third factor may be: academic hiring is a buyer's market. Most applicants for PhDs and postdocs aren't negotiating from a position of strength, and won't see a lack of relocation expenses as a dealbreaker. That being the case, why not spend the money on upgrading the oak panelling in the Dean's office?

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    It's the third factor. Jun 13 '21 at 16:14

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