My colleague and I started as postdocs this year in a US lab.

Recently, we respectively decided to go to a conference and a workshop. The conference was planned since a long time for my colleague, so before the beginning of their postdoc. As for me, I registered for a 3-days workshop at my host institution (not in the US) after the beginning of my postdoc. I asked my PI before registering and I registered because the workshop will bring me additional technical knowledge that I want to use in the future. However, I probably won't need it for the first article of my postdoc.

When I talked with my PI recently they mentioned days off and I realized they expected me to take some to attend the workshop. I asked my colleague, and they had to take days off too to go to their conference.

To give more information, I am a modeler, so I spend my time programming. I work alone on the project, so I don't have short deadlines with fellow coders. My colleague and I do not have a teaching or supervising load. I am currently hosted by the university that is organizing the workshop, so I have no travel, accommodation or registration fees.

I have studied in European countries (Master and PhD) where conferences and workshops are considered work and as such you don't need to take days off. But is it normal in the US?

  • 1
    I'm surprised. Are you paid by the hour or the week? I'd expect an annual salary instead. What does your contract say? Talk to HR.
    – Buffy
    Jun 18, 2022 at 10:20
  • What do you normally do? While you are gone for 3 days, will these things not get done? For example, do you normally do some teaching? Will the university have to provide a substitute while you are gone?
    – GEdgar
    Jun 18, 2022 at 12:03
  • @Buffy It's an annual salary indeed. I don't think my contract mentions anything about days off and conferences/workshops, but I'll check as soon as I can.
    – Argent
    Jun 18, 2022 at 12:23
  • I added more info on my responsibilities in the main post.
    – Argent
    Jun 18, 2022 at 13:07
  • 3
    I happily pay for my postdocs to go to conferences they applied for before coming to my group. Professional courtesy and all that…
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 18, 2022 at 16:32

5 Answers 5


If the event is related to and useful for your job, you should not need to take time off, but you likely need your boss's permission.

If the event is not related to your job but rather your general professional development (for example, it'll help your next job but not your current one) you may need to take time off. You may also need to take time off if your travel is not officially approved but you'd like to go anyways.

It would be extremely unusual to be asked to take time off to travel if the travel is paid for through your job.

I think most typically, since post docs are training positions, mentors will consider "job related" to be very broad, since part of your job is to gain breadth of experience.

There may be complications when your official job/source of revenue does not encompass your entire position, for example if you are paid for teaching or for statistical consulting, but your position also involves research, it may be that you don't really have financial support for the research side of your job. This sort of arrangement is more common for graduate students, though I suppose it's possible some post docs are in a similar situation. It doesn't sound like you fit this, though.

Generally from the details you give, I think this is unusual but probably not against any policy (but for that you'll have to check your institution-specific rules). It seems these are not events where you are representing your current lab, so they fall more in the discretionary area rather than "definitely part of your job" area. I think your boss is foolish to be so protective of the work hours of salaried employees, but that is likely their perogative.

  • If OP works in a different country where they need a visa, they may be obliged to inform the international office, or even seek permission, for personal international travel.
    – gerrit
    Jun 20, 2022 at 12:14

If the travel is related to the grant that’s paying your salary to work on the project you will give a talk or a poster about at the conference, then the grant should pay your expenses, within reason, i.e. getting there, feeding you, etc (whatever’s reasonable and legal, check with your department’s administrative staff). If your prof wants to pay for you to go out of their department funds some other money they have access to them. I’d say getting travel paid on grant funds is more likely, though the agencies keep coming out with longer lists of what you can and cannot pay for with grant funds (in the US), your university will have its own rules, too. E.g., in most states you can’t pay state taxes (hotel) using grant money, it’s self-serving.

To answer the question: abnormal in the US. I’ve never been a postdoc, but I’ve seen them budgeted for and paid, and I think I’d know if they were paying accommodations out of their own pockets. We all pay out of our own pockets initially, but we turn in receipts when we get back for verification and reimbursement.

  • This is pretty similar to what I've experienced in Europe so far. I didn't mark your reply as answer, because I wanted to know more about needing to take days off for workshops and conferences.
    – Argent
    Jun 21, 2022 at 22:53
  • @Argent going to a workshop or conference and giving a talk, paper, or poster is work: so, you get paid. My job as a researcher expects research due to these kinds of events, and so does my funder. Spread the knowledge gained and meet new people and see their new stuff. My funder will pay for some of this, too. Gives us a chance to try to use the latest research in our own projects. I’ve seen whole new computational problems solved during talks.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 28, 2022 at 1:11

It certainly wouldn't be normal or usual for an academic to be docked from a "salary" for attending a conference in the field. But the work needs to get done whether you are on site or elsewhere. Perhaps the prof just used poor wording to remind you of that and to note that you may need to take some responsibility to see that there are no disruptions caused by your absence.

Your salary is for your work, not your physical presence unless that presence is essential to the work.

It is possible, I suppose, that if the prof is paying you out of a grant that they have a different conception of things, or even a misconception. It probably requires a conversation with them to clear it up. And be prepared to assure them that you will take steps to see that the work is carried on without disruption.

It is also possible that your contract specifics a certain number of "vacation" days. Perhaps it is a request (demand?) to count the conference days against that. I would disagree with the appropriateness of that, but others might not have the same view.


Is this normal in the US?

It varies by institution and even by department. I'm guessing this "days off" policy for postdocs is the same as the policy for faculty and administrators at your university.

  • 2
    Your first paragraphed seemed to be requesting clarifications on the post, so I went ahead and converted those to comments (the answers should eventually be edited into the main post). I'll leave the second paragraph, which does appear to be an answer.
    – cag51
    Jun 18, 2022 at 12:54

The conference was planned since a long time for my colleague, so before the beginning of their postdoc.

This is a bit ambiguous, but my impression here is that you are going to a conference to present research you did for a previous employer. It that is what is happening, it is reasonable that you be asked to take time off.

In my experience, one does not go to a conference if one is not presenting.

  • 1
    Perhaps you need to get out more. In my experience one goes to a lot of conferences whether presenting or not. But this differs by fields of course. In CS, conferences are how we keep in contact and learn about new trends.
    – Buffy
    Jun 18, 2022 at 18:01
  • 1
    @Buffy In physics, unlike CS, conferences accept essentially all submissions. Going to a physics or chemistry conference without presenting would be bizarre. It just suggests you forgot to submit an abstract. Jun 18, 2022 at 18:54
  • 2
    And to me, a conference attended by only presenters would be bizarre. And worthless.
    – Buffy
    Jun 18, 2022 at 19:11

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