Say a PhD student has a salary paid through a RA/TA or a fellowships but said student has no money for conferences, lab experiments, or to visit another lab for a few months to develop an important part of the thesis.

Should the student pay for these expenses out of his personal money? Is this acceptable, or should the student cut down on the project or change project to accommodate with the budget restrictions?

EDIT: Think of students from small departments and from countries where research money is little to non existent

  • Are you talking about CS? Because in CS conferences are the main publishing venue. On the other hand, where I was (Europe) there was no money for attending conferences unless you had a paper accepted there (or the conference was in your city and you had to either volunteer or you only had to pay the registration - which they may cover since it was relatively cheap). So, if money for conferences you mean that someone pays your trip to a conference without you having an accepted paper, then perhaps this setting is not that common.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    "Should" is a deeply subjective question, and subjective questions often aren't a great fit for this site's format. You don't give us much in the way of criteria. Please see academia.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask and the pages linked there, and think about how to use the guidelines there to improve your question so it is a better fit for the Stack Exchange format.
    – D.W.
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 6:02

4 Answers 4


Does the student want to pay for the expenses out of his own funds?

It is a fact of life that resources are tight, but dissemination of research and networking are important components of a PhD program, and any supervisor worth his/her salt will build some travel into the budget. (I would expect that there should be at least two regional conferences and one major international conference over the course of the project.) Beyond that, you'd have to be pretty sure that the expense will be worth it, before you incur it. There usually is money to be found, internally, externally, even through a visiting position at the off-site lab you mentioned. Be creative, negotiate, but be selective also.


"Should" is a hard word here. I certainly never paid for these things, but my supervisor was well funded, and so I didn't have to worry about it. At the other end, I think a student certainly "can" pay for these things out of their own pocket. My recommendation for travel would be to avoid this by pursuing departmental, university, and conference-specific travel funds.

I can't imagine it being reasonable for a student to purchase lab equipment. It's often expected that you'll have your own laptop, but workstations, servers, and compute clusters should be provided by someone else. Same for microscopes, reagents, glassware, and everything in between.


Remember that some people fund their entire PhD out of their own pocket so there is no 'should' answer. If someone is in this situation, they should first discuss this with their supervisor who will have the best advice on whether there is any available money. There are no rules against students funding this themselves but many simply wouldn't apply for programs without that kind of support or would not be able to afford that.


There are plenty of grants available to grad students, especially for conference travel. Have a look at the societies in your field. If they offer grants for travel or research expenses then join them. I'd say my ROI for the money I've paid to join societies as a grad student is > 2000%. These are rarely competitive from my experience. Often the society running the conference will offer funding for students to attend the conference. Sometimes funding is only available to those from low GDP countries, so being from a low GDP country can actually help.

Then there are plenty of other organisations that offer grants without having to join or pay to join. Some offer money for research expenses and short trips to visit other institutions. You should be able to find most of these by searching online.

It also looks good on your CV when you have a long list of (small) grants as a grad student.

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