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When a PhD student wants to attend a conference to present a paper, a poster, or just to participate as an audience, who is supposed to pay for the fee?

What is the rule of thumb?

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    "who is supposed to pay" is sometimes different from "who pays". If the authorities (Prof., institute, or any grant provider) don't pay, the Phd student can't often enforce them and he has to pay himself.
    – m123
    Commented Apr 23 at 11:41
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    If the PI agrees that the student should go (particularly for a paper or poster), then the PI should have an idea of how to fund it. If the student just wants to go but the PI is opposed, well, that may well be on the student. I can't support travel to every conference for everyone in my group, so decisions have to be made.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 23 at 13:53
  • As the answers below suggest there is no hard rule, the answer to this REALLY should be part of a budget discussion with your PhD advisor. They can't send everyone to every meeting even if a paper gets accepted. So just like "who pays for any journal publishing fee?", "Who pays for the conference?" MUST (in an ethical sense) be discussed and agreed to before incurring costs.
    – Nick J
    Commented Apr 24 at 21:14

5 Answers 5

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It depends on the funding you have, the conference, and your advisor.

  1. Most PhD students in STEM (and/or the social sciences?) are funded by some sort of research fund. In this case, the rule of thumb is of course that the fees will come out of some kind of fund. Maybe your PhD fellowship entails a research fund; maybe it comes out of your advisor's research funding, or maybe your department/university has some kind of funding. You'd need to talk to your advisor and/or your department to find out. However, it might still be the case that you'd need to pay it first out of your pocket, then be reimbursed for it.

  2. In the humanities, however, unfunded PhDs are somewhat common. In which case the norm is that one would need to pay these costs out of their own pocket.

  3. Some conferences will fund students who will unable to go to the conference otherwise, so in that case the conference will pay.

  4. In rare cases, a third party (e.g. IEEE, the mathematics society of your country, the ministry of education, etc.) can pay, if they have such a funding program.

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  • As commenters mentioned, though, just because travel fees usually come out of grants in STEM doesn't mean that a student does any travel they want; they get travel approved by their PI who agrees to pay the funds from the grant.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 25 at 19:17
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    @BryanKrause Of course, I assumed that should be clear from my wording - research funds are naturally limited in amount.
    – xuq01
    Commented Apr 26 at 4:43
  • I think that's clear to most people but not necessarily OP.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 26 at 11:09
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There is no one who is "supposed" to pay - that is there is no defined law or custom. Who does pay varies widely, not just between locations and disciplines, but just from occasion to occasion - its generally a case of where ever the student or their supervisor can scrabble money together from on at any particular time, up to and including the student paying for themselves in some unfortunate circumstances.

Personally I try to find money to pay for anyone who works with me to go to at least one proper conference during their time with me. For a student this might come from:

  • The scholarship that funds them - all the government funded PhDs I take come with some travel money, but not enough for a proper big international conference.
  • Travel grants provided by the department - the department has a small pot of "learned society" money to fund people to present at conferences, where other funding isn't available. Note that this only applies if you are presenting.
  • Travel bursaries from learned societies, such as The Genetics Society, or the RNA society. Again, an application is unlikely to be successful unless you are presenting.
  • Travel bursaries from the conference itself.
  • Other grant money in the group - note that this depends on the source of the grant - the conditions attached to some grants do not allow you to spend funds on travel for people not employed on the grant (students are never employed on grants in my field in the UK).
  • Any on restricted funds I am lucky enough to have hanging around -these might be things like the consumables money I get from hosting undergraduate or masters research students, or industrial money.

Note that in all these cases, funds are limited, and so I will have some say in who goes to which meeting so as to best use the funds available to the greatest benefit of the group.

I have not seen a student pay for themselves in my field in the UK, but I do know that this is more common in humanities subjects were there is less grant funding around.

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I cannot speak for everywhere, but in Germany conference fees for PhD students (and other travel costs) are generally payed by their employer (the university or research institute, or if they are doing an industry PhD their company). Normally, there are travel costs allocated in research grants, e.g. for dissemination (presenting the research results in form of a conference paper or poster), but also sometimes just for the cause of keeping oneself/the research group informed about current developments by going to a conference without presenting yourself. There is also money from basic university funding that can be used for conference attendance. There are also sometimes small travel grants available for PhD students that you can directly apply for.

Most often this money is limited, so attending conferences overseas might not be possible, but generally it is no problem to attend conferences in a normal amount as a PhD student.

I guess the situation is similar in other EU countries.

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The rule of thumb is that it could be either your professor or your department based on the fact the fact that who has the authority and the money allocated for you (research project). How it works is also different in different countries/universities. As per my personal experiences, I have been funded for my publications in different ways. At one instant, the professor literally handed me cash to pay for the conference, where in another case, the department asked me to pay it myself first and then submit the invoice to the dept for the reimbursement. Sometimes, there is also a credit card that a professor gives to his department to be used for procurement of small lab instruments, pay for conference fees/travel or for other similar purposes. So, I think you might need to talk to your peers (because they also go the conference), (HR) department or professor to clarify the matter.

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The colleagues above have already provided excellent answers and I don't want to become redundant. However, I am afraid that this question mixed up scenarios that likely have completely different outcomes. First of all, PhD students do not decide if they want to attend a conference. They can certainly propose it, but none is expected to pay anything for anyone (this is the 1st rule of thumb). If the conference is approved by the supervisor, and the student is presenting their research in form of a poster or a talk, the supervisor usually supports the travel/lodging expenses and registration fee. However, I strongly encourage all students and postdocs to apply for any type of financial support. Several options are available from the department or the PhD program, as well as from the conference organizers and research foundations. I have always obtained some travel award before attending any conference when I was a PhD student or during my postdoc time. This is how I demonstrated my motivation. The situation is completely different if the PhD student wishes to participate as an audience without presenting. In this case, the student is 100% responsible for the travel expenses (2nd rule of thumb). I have worked both in EU and in the US and this has always been the case. No presentation, no refund. To ensure that employees are not simply traveling to enjoy some time off, our grant office requires a copy of the abstract and the conference flyer, and the name of the employee must appear in the list of spearkers or poster presenters.

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