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I am a PhD student, who has been awarded a young researcher grant, which I intend to use to work at another (host) institute which my home institute is collaborating with. In order to accept the grant and get reimbursed, the institution which rewarded me the grant wants me to fill in a form. It includes personal details, travel/accommodation related information etc, and also requests bank account details (like name of the account holder, bank address, country, IBAN and BIC or SWIFT) for the home institute for reimbursement, as they prefer this.

My supervisor said he doesn't know this information and thus my supervisor contacted the HR head. My supervisor told me afterwards that the HR said that for the lab I (we) work at, they cannot provide that information. When I asked my supervisor why that is the case, he gave a bit of a vague answer that the lab doesn't have an account (or that there is one on a higher level) and he used a little bit of a "none of your business"-argument, which left me in a state of confusion.

For "normal" travel/stays, like conferences/workshops (funded by the lab/institute?), there's a system which takes care of the funding. Any travel related-expenses made by that researcher can be reimbursed after they return the bills at work and the travel/stay has been registered. So obviously there is a reimbursement system and thus a bank account.

My supervisor asked me to instead give them my own bank account details. I guess I wouldn't have anything against this, but reasonably the institute must have a bank account. I have been on more than one trip since the start of my PhD where I have not been reimbursed by my home institute yet, both my supervisor knows it and the HR which handles my requests. Should I try to push my supervisor again, or see some other HR staff/other members of the lab and ask if they can get the bank account details (and also keep my supervisor updated)? I am not sure I can buy my supervisor's argument and then feel ok on following his instructions. I have a bad feeling they are going to mess up again.

EDIT: Thank you all in the community for being so engaging in this matter, and sending me a lot of suggestions and options on how to move forward. It has given me more confidence to confront the people in charge (and make some progress).

After reading the fine print for the research award and contacted the institution for additional information, we found that according to EC regulations, receipts issued from XXX beneficiaries (i.e. institutes participating in XXX either as a partner or as a third party) cannot be accepted, where the institute I work at belongs to XXX. This seem to mean that in order to not violate the EC regulation my home institute cannot send them any expenses (like receipts for paying the accommodation, travel or my daily expenses). I think this is weird... For me this important information should have been mentioned somewhere more accessible or be more clearly specified. The institution replied that in this case they will be in charge of booking and paying for the travel and accommodation, but they need to check if they can reimburse any daily expenses from me (as an individual). If they can reimburse me I will most likely provide my bank account details in the form in order for anyone to not violate the EC regulations (and my supervisor most likely will not need to explain why our lab/institute couldn't give the bank account details when we thought it was necessary). If the daily expenses (local transportation and food) cannot be covered by the funding, most likely my home institute will cover it (and most likely I will not need to fill in my bank account details in the form).

Let's wait for their response and I will give you a final update.

FINAL EDIT: I would like to thank everyone in this community for the support, and for your suggestions in the comments. As several people have pointed out in the comments, since I am a first year PhD student, I should not spend time on acting as an intermediary, but get the respective financial staff in contact with each other. I tried my best to follow it:

The accommodation I am staying at is a university residence/student accommodation of nice quality which we all agreed upon (going for a hotel/airbnb would not be financially plausible). The institution did eventually a good job from their side and took the initiative to contact the student organization managing the accommodations, where they kept me in all email correspondence, and they paid for the stay and travel. However when I needed my supervisor with any type of support in this matter, such as resolving any misunderstandings (dates of the stay, type of payment, authorization of payment etc. ...), I sometimes forwarded to him the emails (financial staff was really out of reach for me, I was never really in touch with any of them during all this time), and he replied to me orally/wrote in the informal "work chat app" what I should email them back in such circumstances, which oftentimes lead me doing things multiple times. When we were both in doubt, I asked if we should contact the HR. According to my supervisor I/we shouldn't really contact ("bother") the financial staff/HR, as I don't speak the language fluently and we encounter oftentimes misunderstandings/no communication (and almost nobody speaks any decent English, yep, and I work in international research environment in a big city in Europe) and the HR staff is understaffed and very busy... According to this mindset, we must help them with their workload as much as possible, which can mean even outside our scope of work and knowledge, and preferably only the supervisor should contact the HR. This ended up with me being the intermediary and putting too much effort into this whole process... Should I have asked higher-ups for assistance?

More details, two events: Event I: The institution claimed eventually that the daily expenses could not be covered by them and said again that's due to the EC regulations, so my home institute will reimburse me for the daily expenses (which I think turned out to be the best outcome: I don't even want to think about sending receipts to the institution abroad, asking for reimbursement and acting as an intermediary again). At some point during this process I got introduced to a HR staff who speaks English quite well, who's been working longer than I have been at my home institute (which got me thinking why I wasn't introduced tho this person before...??) and due to my mistrust towards the specific HR from previous experience on reimbursement, this was perfect to me. She offered the alternative of requesting an advance and got me a form where you request money in advance for a trip, which I have never heard of before. I submitted the document and did get in fact an advance as requested before the trip. She also sped up the process for my reimbursement from my previous trips, which got me all the reimbursement in few days. Thank you!! Unfortunately she left the job recently :'(

Event II: The student organization managing the accommodations, requested also that a home insurance had to be paid. If no home insurance will be provided on time, their policy doesn't allow for a stay. At this point I was too tired to ask the institute why (which in hindsight was maybe not the best option). I then asked my supervisor if the lab could cover it. He asked the HR for the lab we work at, where he informed it's not possible, moreover a reimbursement for this is not possible (The wonderful HR person has left the job by now). "The deal" communicated to me orally through the HR/my supervisor is that they reimburse me one additional meal, as it corresponds to roughly the same price (which is true, so not much money). I asked my supervisor how this deal will be assured, upon my supervisor replied: you will get reimbursed because you'll remember. Given the limited information, I found the offered solution by the HR to be appalling and unprofessional.

I have now arrived to the host institute, found my accommodation and started my work.

This whole experience has learnt me quite a lot about the institute's view on reimbursement/work. Conclusions? Ask AcademiaStackExchange for good advice. Thanks for reading and for any contributions made :)

TLDR: Rant on my home institute, the funding institution managing funding and trip and putting their work on me, and a wonderful HR worker.

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    I'm wondering if you've actually broken your home institution rules by applying for a grant without permission - and, more importantly, for a grant that isn't paying "grant tax" (i.e. "indirect costs") to your home institution - and this is the best way of fixing that problem. Jan 24, 2023 at 21:35
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    In the first paragraph and the title you said "reimbursement". Did you, instead mean the original disbursement of the funds to your institution?
    – Buffy
    Jan 24, 2023 at 21:42
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    At least in here, financial departments mostly can handle money intake only (externally). When, say, a lab gets a grant, it is the institution-wide account that really gets it (indeed, there's no lab-level account), and then the lab has to ask the institution for money citing the income in the lab's name as the grounds for the request. No agreement (and, like @AlexanderWoo says, "indirect costs" cut given to your home institution), no money from them.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 24, 2023 at 22:34
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    @AlexanderWoo: I applied for the grant, where the supervisor from my home institute and host institute sent support letters in the application. We did it together. Could you elaborate on grant taxes? Maybe there is some, but I am not aware of the term.
    – Atom1667
    Jan 25, 2023 at 9:12
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    @morxa The website states: The preferred alternative is that your institution is reimbursed. Down below it also says: Costs in the name of the researcher will not be accepted. Although down below it also says that according to EC regulations, receipts issued from XXX beneficiaries (i.e. institutes participating in XXX either as a partner or as a third party) cannot be accepted, where my institute belongs to XXX which is somewhat confusing.
    – Atom1667
    Jan 25, 2023 at 16:50

5 Answers 5

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Assuming all the institutions involved are legitimate (that is, you're dealing with an actual known educational institution and not some scam), I'd recommend you not act as an intermediary and get the respective financial staff in contact with each other and let them sort this out.

First step is to find who those people are: you may already be in contact with someone at the granting institution, you may need to ask your supervisor or office/HR staff in your department who the right financial person is on the other end.

Once you have the contact information, I'd do this by sending an email to both of them together, introducing them and stating the situation and asking them to figure it out. It might look something like:

Dear Bonnie and Clyde,

Bonnie is the financial specialist for the Dept of Things at U of A.

Clyde is the treasurer for the Bag of Money Award at UB.

I am a PhD student with Prof X. I received the Good Student award from UB and therefore UB needs to transfer funds to Dept of Things. I am not sure how best to facilitate that transfer, but I hope you each can help me coordinate.

I suspect what's going on is similar to the "XY problem" common on StackExchange, where it's better to ask about your problem rather than how to implement a proposed solution, which might not be a sensible solution in the first place.

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    Yes, this. Supposedly, all these administrators exist for a reason. This is very much Their Job and not Yours. Jan 24, 2023 at 21:29
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    "I hope you can help me coordinate." is a wonderful phrasing of "Get this sorted out yourselves!"
    – Bergi
    Jan 25, 2023 at 12:07
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    I'm a big fan of the "you've given me the runaround, now sort it out amongst yourselves" approach. It's one to remember for the rest of your academic career. Fantastic at unblocking things from stubborn IT people, administrators, or really any place that you suspect someone is gatekeeping because you're the only one affected or blamed if the thing doesn't happen. Other great approaches are "working groups as punishment" and "strategic naivete about why emailing someone's boss might cause problems for them"
    – lupe
    Jan 25, 2023 at 14:40
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    @lupe While a similar strategy might be used as "punishment", I don't intend for this advice to be applied that way nor do I think anyone here is deserving of it. Rather, I'd like to get the people together who are speaking the same finance "language", rather than playing a game of 'telephone' with someone (OP) who doesn't really need to understand the fine level grit of the process. If your physician has a question for radiology, it's better for them to talk with the radiology technician directly rather than asking the patient for details about contrast settings and spinning protons.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 25, 2023 at 16:47
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    @Atom1667 Got it - I guess in my experience those things are usually paid directly to the person incurring those expenses, which is probably you. Is there a reason that doesn't work here?
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 26, 2023 at 18:28
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There are two issues. The first is how your institution gets the money from the grantor. That can probably be handled by the grants office at your institution and they will provide necessary banking information to allow for a direct transfer. But you won't be involved in that and the two institutions talk to each other. The grantor and the grants office are well experienced in this.

The second issue is how you get the funds. They will come from your institution in most cases, not directly from the grantor. The grants office will have established an account on your behalf from which you can draw the funds. And they will subtract an amount from the grant for overhead in most cases.

Part of the reason for the overhead charge is that your institution takes on the responsibility for correct usage of the funds.

In the US, at least, the system for you to get the funds is pretty ubiquitous. The individual pays and gets reimbursed later after presenting all receipts. This avoids lots of surprises for the institution and makes sure that disbursements are according to the rules.

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  • It follows that if your department "does not have an account", then that's because your department has managed to stay outside the "overhead" system, and wants to remain that way.
    – david
    Jan 26, 2023 at 8:53
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Research administrator here; there are two main ways fellowships get awarded. One is directly to the recipient; i.e., the bank account they want is in fact your personal bank account. Please note that any income from this fellowship may be taxable to you. The other option is to make the institution you work at the awardee, they then issue a check to you, presumably as a stipend instead of salary. This is a frequent point of confusion, even among trained research administrators. We always need to see the terms and conditions of any award to decide how this will go--it's not up to the researcher to choose.

As an example, the NSF GRFP and NIH F31 programs award the funding to the institution, and these are received as grants to the institution for the benefit of named individuals. On the other hand, some fellowships award directly to individuals, and when those folks come to the institution, we don't see anything involved with their funding. All of their terms and conditions are between them and the sponsor. We do expect them to disclose information to our graduate aid office.

Which bucket are you in? Contact your research administrator by going to your local department administrator and asking how to contact a research administrator or whoever is in charge of graduate financial aid. If you can't figure this out, ask the person who processes those "normal reimbursements". The institution you are at will have a very specific setup which I can't possibly advise on, as the range is huge, but one of these position types will exist. The key is getting someone who is trained to identify this language to tell you which direction this goes. Either you do in fact fill this out yourself, or this needs to be passed on to another entity to process on your behalf. Make sure you have your terms and conditions and correspondence handy for this person. If your fellowship contract is in another language; no matter--provide anyways. The institution should pay for translation services.

Here's an example of terms and conditions for the Swiss NSF Postdoc fellowship (in English). Notice the terms on page 20 dictating who gets the money (an institution). Look for information about who the awardee is, and this will help answer more of your questions.

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The situation is a bit unclear.

Are you asking for a reimbursement (i.e. you have already paid some invoices/bills and want to be reimbursed?) or a disbursement (i.e. you have not yet incurred any expenses but will do so in the future?).

It seems the paying institution wants to disburse the funds to your institutions, and thus need banking details to proceed with the transfer to your current institution. These funds are unlikely to go to “one” account as I’m willing to bet your institution has multiple accounts so that - as a trivial example - salaries or other current expenses are not paid from the same account as research equipments.

Likely your current institution can set up for you a research account, with a credit to the amount disbursed by the paying institution, minus some administrative fee (sometimes called grant tax) if this admin fee is not paid directly by the paying institution to your current institution.

Normally, HR does not handle this but there will be some office for grant services or research services, or someone from financial services, who can set up this research account. Your university will then credit an research account or a budget code or whatever terminology they are using for the amount disbursed from the payee. You then get reimbursed real money by your university after they debit this account/budget code/whatever by the amount of the reimbursement issued to you.

When your lab has a guest, expenses will likely be billed to a research account controlled by your lab. Which one may depend on a variety of factors: if the visit was related to a specific project, the account for the funds of this project will be billed. It’s likely your lab has multiple research accounts because different granting agencies have different rules for allowable expenses, so keeping funds from different origins in different accounts makes it “easy” to make sure the funds were spent correctly.

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Sounds very familiar to me: Getting any funds transferred to my lab account (which is essentially just a virtual PO number) is a hassle that I (as a PI!) have no control over.

The university has a bank account and money can go there, obviously, but to make sure those funds are then actually attributed to me/the lab is much more of a hassle than one would expect it to be.

All this is to say: I can see where your supervisor might be at and also their (what to you felt like) "none of your business" response...

That being said, I think you should follow up with the advice handed out by others that this is something you should get help with/let the financial administrators sort out.

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