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I am a first year PhD student. I have been invited to give a talk at a student society in my own university (so no travel costs, etc). I am wondering whether I should ask for a small fee when giving the talk. Some points:

  • I have been an organiser at other student societies, and generally we wouldn't pay when professors gave a talk with us, but we would invite them to dinner (prepandemic). There was someone who asked to be paid (she said she always charges) and we agreed (she is a public figure).
  • Obviously it may seem a bit arrogant that I (only a PhD student) ask for a fee, but during my undergraduate studies I gave quite a few student talks / seminars for other students (for free), so I have become a bit of a big name on campus, and I believe my talks are good.
  • I have been paid by the university when giving a sample lecture about my area of research to prospective students, and also when helping out at other outreach events.
  • It's a student society after all (not a conference), so I am not sure it would look particularly great on my CV, especially given that I already have quite a few of these on my CV (albeit I wasn't invited).
  • The society is about the ethics of X, where X is my field. I have been an advocate of ethical considerations of my field (usually ignored), so I am flattered to have been invited and I genuinely care about this.
  • I generally enjoy giving talks.
  • But it takes me time, and obviously my research, my teaching, and my personal life also require a lot of time.
  • It takes me about 24 hours to prepare a good talk (for example, six evenings). ((Is this way too much time?)).

Should I give the talk? Should I ask for some fee?

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  • 38
    Personally I wouldn't ask for money, in particular not in case of a student society. But if you do, please do not forget that such a fee would likely be taxable income, with all the associated paperwork involved.
    – mlk
    Jul 16 at 7:00
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    I've never asked for a fee, and I generally decline honoraria if offered. (When my own institution offers money, I take it.)
    – Bob Brown
    Jul 16 at 13:50
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    @mlk (and others interested): Your comment about "associated paperwork involved" reminded me of something in Feynman's 1985 book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, so I got my copy of the book to look it up. What I was thinking of wound up being the entry titled "Thirteen Times" on pp. 256-257. Googling a random phrase in it, I found a copy of that section on the internet. Jul 16 at 17:19
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    At your own university, do not expect to be paid. One exception: there may be a dinner at a restaurant after the talk, and your check may be covered by the society.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 16 at 17:37
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    I appreciate you linking to COVID-19 in case no one had heard about it lol Jul 16 at 18:04
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I would suggest to not ask a fee. It's a student society, and having served in the board of one, budget was always tight. Talks by PhDs and professors were always good since students could learn a lot and it was easy to organize and almost everybody was willing to talk about what they were doing, and always with a bottle of wine (or something non-alcoholic where appropriate) as 'payment'.

Regarding spending 24 hours on a talk - that seems like too much for a small gig at the student society. You know your field/research, and you probably have a feeling on the ethics around it, so it should be relatively easy to come up with what you want to say. I'd spend at most four hours on it, for a 30-45 minute talk. Two hours of structuring my contents, and two hours for creating the slides.

Thanks avid - For a PhD student, you should take into account your funding and whether you can spend your working hours on this, or if you should do this in your free time.

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    For a professor, at least, I would suggest that giving this sort of talk is really part of their 'day job', and so they should account the time spent preparing/delivering it against their usual salary. For a PhD researcher the situation may be a bit more complex, depending on their funding situation.
    – avid
    Jul 16 at 10:25
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    @avid you're right - added a bit to the answer.
    – Jeroen
    Jul 16 at 11:00
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    You can also perfectly well re-use talks or parts of talks. You don't need a new unique talk every time for this kind of thing. Most professors probably have a few standard outlines ("this is the area I research") and then speak primarily extemporaneously. If you really want a brand new talk, base it on what you're currently studying or researching, since the work of putting together and giving the talk will also double as studying/researching. A really, really good topic for a student group talk is something that you learned previously but have partially forgotten and will need in the future. Jul 16 at 15:30
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    As a grad student I had a presentation that was very much a living document. Every time I'd give a talk, it would come out of the drawer and get updated. Sometimes the updates were substantial, sometimes not, but it was never made from scratch after the first talk. Eventually it became my defense.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 16 at 17:59
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    Treat such things as "service to the community". I'm sure plenty of people have "donated" things to your education.
    – Buffy
    Jul 16 at 23:56
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The questions asks "Do academics charge for talks at student societies". The answer to this is generally no, I've rarely heard of academics charging student societies for talks, especially if they are local.

Note that this is not the same as saying should academics charge for their talks, that is a difficult and complex ethical question, but rather that, as a rule, they don't.

You can ask, but I suspect they answer will be that they have no money to pay you.

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When I give local talks of any kind, I do not at all pretend to charge a fee, nor expect an honorarium, though a dinner (or free parking?) is nice.

When I give non-local invited talks, I would expect to have my expenses covered, more-or-less (I have to eat anyway), but not "make a profit" in money. In some cases there'll be benefits to me from giving the talk, or it promises to be a fun audience, so if my expenses are not completely covered, it's still desirable for me to do.

Yes, if one is in a financially delicate situation, these things loom larger... but I think the academic tradition (in more idealist milieus?) is to not expect to make a profit from telling about your own work.

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Given what you’ve told us about yourself, you don’t seem to have the rep to participate in the “cash-for-public-speaking” business.

So, if you asked me for payment, I’d say “no”, I’d think to myself “who does this guy think he is”, and I’d go find another speaker, and I’d never invite you again.

Your local student society might be more generous and forgiving than I am (lots of people are). Do you want to risk it?

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You don't say what discipline you are in; that may matter.

As a PhD student, especially in the first year, you should use this kind of invitation to practice giving academic talks of the kind you would give at a conference or as a job talk. In the first year you probably won't have much, but for students it can be an overview of a topic if you don't have research to present. I know what that would look like in my discipline but not yours.

Because giving academic papers is a part of the work you are training for and will be absolutely necessary in the long run, these are good opportunities as long as you don't let them be a distraction from getting your other work done.

I sometimes invite students on the job market to give practice talks to my undergraduates (if their topic is relevant to the class) and these are really helpful.

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I have been paid by the university when giving a sample lecture about my area of research to prospective students, and also when helping out at other outreach events.

If I read it correctly, it means those events were beyond your duty stated in the contract, so you get paid.

First, ask permission to your university for being paid to give lectures to an external association . Second, since giving the talk to the Student Association is beyond your duties, you have all the rights to ask for a compensation (talking about ethics ...). However, your interest in promoting Ethics seems to be very strong, being in itself a reasonable compensation, so I would proceed this way: you can state to the student association that you would charge 200 quids for this talk, but knowing the Students'Associations are on a tight budget, and that budget is better spent on books and beers, ask to convert the 200 quids in one beer or one book (relevant to Ethics of X).

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    I don't think the association is external. Jul 16 at 18:01
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    Ugh. Sounds petty (almost extortion) and a good way to get disinvited.
    – Buffy
    Jul 16 at 23:54
  • See, for example: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/…"
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 0:00
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    @nick012000, if you don't say a word, you'd almost certainly be invited to a pizza get together anyway. It doesn't need to be a transaction. It can be their gift. A "token gift" that is asked for isn't a gift.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 16:14
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    If “quid” is British slang for “pound”, then it’s plural is just “quid”, not “quids”.
    – bubba
    Oct 30 at 6:23
2

Unless you are a prominent figure in your field, you might ask whether there is a fee - or even expenses - or anything else but that's what you might ask about, not ask for…

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