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Other research-focused PIs (or aspiring PIs) how do/would you spend funding to increase your own wellbeing?

My funding stream (R1, USA) allows me some spending flexibility, and my lab is doing well. At the same time, I am a bit worn down. I am considering how I might buy myself greater wellbeing.

I plan to:

  • travel to conferences more, and pay for extra time and childcare while I'm there so that my partner and I can explore and build connections
  • set up outings for me and my graduate students
  • pay for editing of my students' manuscripts, so that I can focus on concepts
  • pay a personal assistant, to minimize paperwork and busywork
  • hire a research scientist close to my own expertise to free me to learn more
  • pay for classes or training that I find interesting

I think spending rules vary greatly, and I am less interested in what is allowed (and personally quite cautious about this). If not allowed by my university, I may well pay for a good idea myself. I'm also thinking about where perks can help my laboratory staff.

Where can money can buy an academic happiness, job satisfaction, and greater wellbeing?

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    Can you pay for someone to clean your house? Cook you food? A personal chauffeur? Private jet, yacht, etc? You might want to make it clear how far the scope of options you are interested in extends, since you specifically removed the obvious limitation by saying you’re not just interested in things that are allowable expenses for an academic grant.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 14 '21 at 4:38
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    As stated, I'm hoping to not have this devolve into a discussion of what is allowable. I trust those the post here to take this question in good faith. If I should be considering private jets, and you think this is something a reasonable PI at a USA R1 would do to improve their wellbeing, I would love to hear about it. I know nothing about private jets.
    – user104495
    Nov 14 '21 at 5:08
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    @AzorAhai OP wrote “If not allowed by my university, I may well pay for a good idea myself.” That and “If I should be considering private jets … I would love to hear about it” are not terribly consistent with your interpretation.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 15 '21 at 1:01
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    @DanRomik I also read this as OP really not wanting to quibble about what is allowable. I agree: who wants more of that! I also think OP is simply opening the door to the idea that ideas that are not very likely to be covered by a grant may yet be OK to suggest. As I note below, gift funding and startup can be very flexible, and OP seems willing to spent their own dollars. Because OP did not state that they are fantastically wealthy, they likely are not. Nov 15 '21 at 1:11
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    This feels a bit like a shopping question, quite literally. But in the realm of buying editing… what about buying all your grad students a subscription to grammarly? Or a scientific writing workshop? Seems that improving grad student skills can limit busy work. On this note, buying the upgrade of Calendly for scheduling would be great!
    – Dawn
    Nov 15 '21 at 3:30
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Pay for nice office furniture and, possibly, some art for the walls. Also for someone to paint the walls if necessary.

I spent my first two years as a faculty in an office that contained a mismatched array of old desks, chairs, and metal filing cabinets. I just wasn't happy there. Then I used the last of my start-up on a matching set of surfaces/desks/book shelves and a couch. My happiness being in that office dramatically improved.

After moving to another university, buying furniture was more or less the first thing I spent any startup money on. This is how it looks now:

enter image description here

(I will add that many years ago I also decided that I don't believe in paper any more, and so my surfaces are generally quite clean. This is the normal state of my desk, not the cleaned-up version. The only paper in the office are books and journals in a book shelf off the left.)

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    (+1) Great answer! My first really good office, I added a record player, for playing the vinyls. I still regret not adding a big popcorn machine.
    – Ed V
    Nov 15 '21 at 0:58
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    This is a great idea. Indeed, my office is a mismatched mess of hand-me-downs. Nov 15 '21 at 1:02
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    I can't believe I never thought of this! I have a fairly tiny office, but it is true that 90% of it is taken up by a giant, ancient desk that I (upon reflection) hate. I've actually already started on the road to a quote for new furniture. Thank you.
    – user104495
    Nov 17 '21 at 2:04
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    @user104495 Glad to hear! I have been thinking of my answer on occasion over the course of the day and been thinking of getting a nice Italian espresso machine :-) Nov 17 '21 at 3:43
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    If this thread leads to a few of us treating ourselves better, I strongly approve.
    – user104495
    Nov 17 '21 at 16:19
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If you have truly flexible funds (overhead, startup, gift money) you might consider funding a pet project that is defensibly in the realm of your study. I spent some of these kind of funds dabbling in biology by taking two trips to South America and hiking up volcanos, and another portion learning Swedish in Sweden. To answer your other post, I cannot think of another job beyond self-employed that allows this kind of thing.

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    I read this as 'consider funding a pet'. A dog to accompany you on your volcano hikes seems sensible, but I couldn't understand why you wanted to teach it Swedish...
    – avid
    Nov 15 '21 at 10:28
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    A dog that could speak fluent Swedish would be a cover-of-Science result. Alas, mine has never gotten past 'voff'. Nov 15 '21 at 23:36
  • I also read 'buy a pet'. Also, awesome idea.
    – user104495
    Nov 17 '21 at 2:01
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  1. travel to conferences more, and pay for extra time and childcare while I'm there so that my partner and I can explore and build connections

In my experience additional travelling has a negative impact on my work-life balance and actually increases stress. Combining conferences with vacation would offset this but usually requires you to cover some of the travel cost with your personal funds.

  1. set up outings for me and my graduate students

Team building is important and you should be doing that anyway. Cost can be kept minimal but there is a time investment. I suggest "retreats" where you spend about two days at a nice location and discuss stuff like your research strategy as a group.

  1. pay for editing of my students' manuscripts, so that I can focus on concepts

Be careful to avoid negative impacts on quality. I would limit this to language editing, which is routinely covered by my institute. Let more senior members of your group help with writing papers.

  1. pay a personal assistant, to minimize paperwork and busywork

Yes, do this if possible. That will likely have the strongest positive inpact on your productivity and happiness. It might not be possible, though. But you could frame this in a different way and limit the scope. E.g., my institute has an assistent for everything related to finances and funding, who also is our interface with central administration.

  1. hire a research scientist close to my own expertise to free me to

AKA a PostDoc? I'd expect most scientists in your group to be close to your expertise.

  1. pay for classes or training that I find interesting

... and useful. You should already have funding for this.

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  • Great feedback and additional ideas. Thank you. I like your institute. I have 'department/university funding' for none of these things... but, I can potentially use my own funding to pay for them.
    – user104495
    Nov 17 '21 at 1:58
  • Eh, I think a multi-day retreat for (2) is a bit much...maybe in some cultures this would be typical, but I think most grad students/lab staff in the US would find this a bit burdensome and might feel awkward about accepting/declining. I think splitting the same funds over dinners or drinks with the group (keeping in mind issues with alcohol culture in academia and society as a whole) would be more universally appreciated/beneficial. I've always found these events to be a great mix of "shop" and outside talk, or can be paired with more structured academic work as a journal club.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 17 '21 at 22:21
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    +1 for identifying "hiring as a research scientist" as getting a postdoc (also my first thought). Probably one of the most common expenses for university research grants. But in addition to "freeing up time of the PI", I would consider a postdoc much more as someone to educate and work with and increasing well-being of the PI through more productive, fulfilling and enjoyable research work.
    – Rolf
    Nov 19 '21 at 19:21

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