There was a master student who was supervised by a lecturer for his dissertation. They also decided to write and submitted a paper, whose first author was the master student, based on the dissertation. The paper is accepted but it also creates an issue about who should go and present it since there is enough funding for only one person to go to the conference.

The master student wants to go as he is the first author and did most of the work. On the other hand, the lecturer wants to go for networking purposes, e.g. meet other reseachers and find potential collaboration. Moreover, he also reasons that as the student is about to graduate and won't work in academia anymore, it does not have much benefit to fund him to go to the conference.

My question is that whether the lecturer's decision is reasonable.

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    I assume that other avenues of funding have been tapped. Some conferences have funds that are earmarked for students. In such a case, one could apply for such funding for the student and pay the lecturer's attendance from the "already available" funding. – Stephan Kolassa Mar 26 '15 at 16:38
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    I am not posting this as an answer because it's probably too strong of a reaction. I think this is a ridiculous decision by the supervisor. Since the student is leaving academia, this is his one and only opportunity to present his work and talk to other researchers about it. Moreover, it's his work. If the supervisor is so desperate for networking to rob his own student of this experience, maybe the advisor should reconsider his own career in academia. – Sasho Nikolov Mar 26 '15 at 18:02

You're going to get a lot of opinions on this, but I think that if the second author wants to go primarily for networking purposes, he should pay his own way. The student wants to go, did the majority of the work, and is the primary author of the paper. The fact that the student will leave academia after graduating is irrelevant. The student should have his travel paid and present the work at the conference.

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    Paid by whom? Typically this type of things are paid for by departments, or research funds. Since the student is neither part of a department and will also not have a research fund, who should pay? – Maarten van Wesel Mar 26 '15 at 12:39
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    The question says explicitly that the problem is that "there is enough funding for only one person to go to the conference.", so I don't really understand the above comments which seem to doubt whether funding for one person can be arranged. – JiK Mar 26 '15 at 12:50
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    I agree that funded by whom is a good question, but I assumed that the student is currently and would still be eligible for for the funding at the time of the conference. If he is not eligible, then it's a much simpler question. – Bill Barth Mar 26 '15 at 15:13

My question is that whether the lecturer's decision is reasonable.

Presumably the funding belongs to the supervisor since if it was not under the supervisor's control, it would not be his/her decision. I think it is perfectly reasonable for the supervisor to decide that it is in his/her best interest to attend the conference and not to fund the student to attend. A lot of factors would go into that decision including how much funding there is, how expensive the conference is, what the student will get out of it, what the supervisor will get out of it, etc.

In my field, the order of authors is based on contribution. Conference presentations have a presenting author who is often not the first author. It is pretty typical in my field for a PI to get invited to a conference, including funding, to present recent work. This often leads to the PI co-authoring a paper with a student, where the student is the first author. It would be mildly inappropriate for the PI to send the student in his/her place.

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    Although I agree that the supervisor may be entitled to go instead of the student, whether or not it is the right or ethical thing to do is a matter surrounded in much murkier ethical waters. – Moriarty Mar 26 '15 at 13:57
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    @Moriarty in my field first author is not the same as presenting author (see edit). – StrongBad Mar 26 '15 at 15:38
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    @StrongBad, yeah, but it doesn't sound like invitation is an issue here. I'm guessing that there is either a small research grant or university/departmental travel grant in question, instead. – Bill Barth Mar 26 '15 at 15:52
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    What awful field are you in where it is considered normal for senior people to take all the glory after doing none of the work? And where it is "perfectly reasonable" for supervisors to screw their students for selfish reasons!? – user4512 Mar 27 '15 at 6:40
  • @ChrisWhite supervisors have a commitment to the funding body to use the money wisely (or at a minimum not waste it). Training students that want to stay in the field and providing them networking opportunities is a justifiable use of funds. The OP says that there is not much benefit of the student/first author attending since he is leaving academia, so I don't see how sending him benefits the funder. – StrongBad Mar 27 '15 at 8:51

@BillBarth already pointed out that you are going to get a lot of opinions on this, here is another one:

First of all, I agree with Bill, if it was just about attending the conference (and ignoring the funding) and there is only one slot, then the first author should be the one presenting the work.

However, it is not clear by whom the funding is. If the funding is given by the conference then the funding should, in my opinion, go to the first author. But most of the time the travel expenses are not paid by the conference but the university (or a grant that was acquired by someone) to give the researchers of this university/department to opportunity to present their work. The clearest case would be, if the funding comes from a grant given to the lecturer. Here it is pretty clear that he can choose who should be going to this conference. But also in the other cases (grants given to the department/university) the same idea still applies (but maybe to a lesser extend): The funding was acquired to support members of the department: The member of the department should be given priority over the student.

In general, I would advise you to think about it from a different perspective: If this would have been a solo authored paper (by you), would you still have gotten the funding? If the answer is a very clear 'yes', then I would advise you to talk to your advisor again (keeping in mind, that maybe a good relationship with the person who writes your letters of recommendation might be worth more than attending a conference). If not, just let it be and be glad that your work is going to be presented.

A minor remark: In some countries it might not be possible to give travel money to students who are not employed by the university. This is here clearly not the case, but should be mentioned nonetheless.

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