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If you are working as a postdoc, would you expect your PI to cover all fees for your conference attendance?

I heard some labs cover all, but I am not sure what is the culture and conditions in here. Thanks.

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In my field (biomedical science) it is expected that grant funds cover reasonable travel. Most often those grants are to the PI of a lab, but sometimes post docs have their own grants to cover travel.

In any event, though, this is absolutely a conversation that needs to specifically occur with every conference attended, it is not something to be assumed. The conversation can be started as simply as "Will you/the lab be able to cover my travel to X?" and should occur before plans to attend are made.

Similarly, if someone is "sent" or otherwise compelled to go to a conference, it should absolutely be funded; students, post docs, etc should never be pressured to spend their own funds to attend a conference.

If you are in a field where conference presentations are considered the primary publication mechanism (CS, for example), I would suggest asking explicitly about travel funding before taking a job as a post doc and make sure that your expectations and the PI's expectations about travel (frequency, distance, etc) are compatible.

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    Likewise, PIs should not expect anyone to travel to a conference they aren't funding them to. Apr 15 at 23:21
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    @AzorAhai-him- Absolutely. Added to the answer to cover that.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 15 at 23:27
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First of all, if your advisor/supervisor requires you to be at the conference, I would expect that they should also have no problem covering the full travel and lodging costs at the bare minimum. In the vast majority of cases, I would expect they also will cover the conference fees (in case there are any). The main nebulous part, if any, would be the food costs. The convention for how this would be handled depends largely on the home department and the specific conference.

If it's a conference of your choosing, then of course you can't expect to always be funded for that. You will need to work that out with your supervisor (beforehand).

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  • The convention on food costs (and to a lesser extent also e.g. hotel costs) also depends on local tax law. Apr 15 at 18:10
  • How would food costs depend on the conference? Apr 15 at 22:59
  • @AzorAhai-him- some conferences include full meals, so the registration cost may possibly include the meal cost. But I've also seen conferences with no fees, that also have free meals.
    – Taw
    Apr 25 at 18:22
  • @taw I’ve never seen a free conference or one with full meals 🤷‍♀️ Apr 26 at 1:06
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Research budgets should cover people's expenses - and that's also what's normal. The question of whether it's:

  • The lab/group budget/grant
  • The PI's research budget/grant
  • The post-doc's personal budget/grant
  • The department/university budget/grant

should depend on who got grants or a budget and for what purpose. If you, as a post-doc, have a specific allowance for attending conferences (and it's not too small), then it is normal for you to be expected to actually use it. But if post-docs in your field or your group don't typically have such budgets or allowances, then it is normal for whoever does have them to spend them on researchers attending conferences.

The exception is when there is so little money that funding conference attendance is at the expense of core research activity. I have not been in that situation myself, and at any rate I would expect there is no one universal "normal" in these cases.


PS 1 - Often, in order to normalize there being a personal conference attendance budget - a struggle is required by the organized academic staff, e.g. a union. Sometimes, senior academic staff members might push for this at the department/faculty level or the university level, without require harsher confrontation. Or, contrarily, university management may impose "taxes" on other sources of finance to ensure such budgets or allowances for post-docs and/or graduate students.

PS 2 - It also relatively common, but not as common, to cover conference attendance expenses for conferences you are not presenting anything in. Again, if it's your budget, you can obviously do it.

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It is commonly expected for funding to be available - as part of any lab - to attend and/or present at relevant conferences. That said, the actual amount available, of course, is specific to each lab’s funding allocation/distribution. While that is completely variable, you - at minimum - should not have to cover your own travel or lodging. At best, your food and transportation should also be covered. At the end of the day, be sure to have this conversation (along with all required documents) with your supervisor/PI.

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In some cases (every physics group I've known in the UK) the expectation that a conference fee and travel will be covered by grants so strong that it can be assumed that if you go, you won't be paying for the necessities. That partly comes from employment law, but PhD students aren't employees and the same expectation holds.

But there would be a discussion about the merits of attending (e.g. internationally, only if presenting) that would include the financial position, as well as the suitability of the conference. This would include potential co-authors, quite likely including the PI; if the PI/grant holder wasn't a co-author a separate discussion would be a good idea.

In a well-functioning group such a discussion with the PI would be expected even if the attendee had access to their own travel funding. This is because for a few reasons: you're representing the group so the PI should know in advance; they may know more about the conference and likely attendees, to optimise your attendance - or ask you to meet someone while you're there; it affects the time you have available for other priorities in the lab.

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Discuss and agree first and check your lab policies and the project budget. In our group your are paid to attend a reasonable number of reasonable priced conferences (travel and lodging included in the price) but generally under the condition you have a first authored paper accepted for oral presentation in one of the main conference sessions (I.e. not doctoral consortium preprogram). Whether you get the cost back for a poster depends ( we sometimes allow junior PhD candidates to attend a conference on poster alone). But such rules differ substantially between groups even within a university.

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