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I am a PhD student, and I was recently invited to visit a university which happens to be at a very attractive touristic location.

It goes without saying that the purpose of the visit is purely scientific, and any other matters are tangential. On the other hand, it has occurred to me and my long-time girlfriend that it would be a perfect opportunity for her to see this touristically attractive place. Now, I am wondering how best to make the arrangements, so as to maximize both research and personal benefits (and not offend the host as a by-product).

To state the obvious, at the time when I am supposed to be doing research I will be doing research, and not get distracted by the presence of my partner. The place is interesting enough to keep her entertained through the day, and to keep us both entertained during the evenings. I would not expect the host to have much interest in how I spend my free time if I want to be left to my own devices, so if me and my girlfriend make totally separate arrangements and only spend the evenings together, this should not cause any problems.

Keeping things entirely separate feels a little impractical though, so I have some questions about issues that I do not see as so clear-cut. My host will be booking accommodation for me and paying for it. Is it impolite to suggest that he book a double room, and we pay half of the price from our own pocket? It is probable that I will be invited to some social gatherings - maybe beer after a seminar, maybe dinner. Is it polite to bring my partner along/resign from joining? Would it be OK to streach the visit for an extra weekend after the research is done (paying for the hotel, of course, but hopefully still getting the return flight refunded)?

I would also be grateful for input on any issues that I have not yet thought of.

A few details, just in case they are relevant: My field is (pure) mathematics. The university is in Europe, at the Mediterranean coast. The visit is about a week long. We are in a long-distance relationship, so a extra week together does make a difference. The host strikes me as rather easy-going, but I don't know him that well.

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  • are you considering relocating there at some point in the future? – Fábio Dias Apr 16 '16 at 16:00
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    In most hotels, the price for a room for two is far far less than double the price of a room for one. So although it's good for you to offer to pay for whatever extra cost your visitor incurs, paying for half the room strikes me as more than they'd want. (There are exceptions, e.g. cost per person can be higher in Japan, and some conferences use dormitories for lodging that might not be able to accommodate two people.) – Noah Snyder Apr 17 '16 at 3:05
  • @FábioDias: I could end up doing a postdoc there, but probably nothing more permanent. – Jakub Konieczny Apr 17 '16 at 14:31
  • @NoahSnyder: That's true, but I don't want to be exploiting the situation too much. It seems only fair that the host institution should save as much as we do on a shared room. Of course, if they offer to pay more, I'm not going to argue ;) – Jakub Konieczny Apr 17 '16 at 14:36
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It is perfectly reasonable. I have done it a couple of times and I know colleagues that frequently do it. Her presence at work/social events depends on the event and how well you know the host and the events. Often the work/social line gets blurred. I am friends with a number of my colleagues partners and my partner are friends with them and their partners. Sometimes my partner will join me for social events when we have a visitor.

That said, while it is not inappropriate, the trailing partner at academic events never has worked well for us. I have been both the leading and trailing partner. The person working is often tired at the end of the day and not really in the mood to be a tourist. We find it is a better use of our time and money to travel both as tourists and really enjoy our holidays.

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    +1. I'd just like to add that, in OP's shoes, I wouldn't bring my partner to social events like "having a drink." Those are great to get to know others, and be known by them; and with a partner around, interactions are likely going to be much different. Not a universal rule, but if it's just a week, what could be a good opportunity on the soft side of your visit might not be one. That would be different, of course, if it were an extended stay; and depending on your partner, it might not be true even here, – gnometorule Apr 16 '16 at 19:04
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    I had a good experience being the "trailing partner" when my GF went to a math conference in Strobl, Austria (rural town on a lake). We stayed at a B&B in walking distance from the conference centre, instead of in the dorms at it. I rented a bicycle from our B&B hosts and rode around the countryside, stopping to take pictures sometimes. We met up for supper in the conference cafeteria along with the other attendees, and I'd show her some pictures from what I did that day. We travelled in Europe for two more weeks after the conference, so we did get the chance to be tourists together. – Peter Cordes Apr 17 '16 at 1:29
  • It depends on the diplomatic skills of the girlfriend .Imagine if she upset somebody that is important to your future .Social settings and work settings can mix with great care .In social settings stuff that shouldnt be work relevent like say religion could come up . – Autistic Apr 17 '16 at 2:38
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    @Autistic in my experience, in academia social and work setting mix whether you want them to or not. Trying to take great care on social interactions just does not work. – StrongBad Apr 17 '16 at 19:46
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We often invite people to our institute, and it's not at all unusual for them to bring their girlfriend/boyfriend/family with them. This is never a problem - we're often asking them to come a long way, and it would feel strange not to accommodate their personal ties as much as possible. I imagine other institutes are similar - certainly no-one should be surprised if you ask, and I would be surprised if it caused a problem.

I would also ask about extending the visit to cover the weekend. Sometimes institutions have bureaucratic rules that can affect their ability to pay for your flights if you do that, so it's worth making sure that's not the case here. I don't think it's an unusual thing to want to do, so again they won't be surprised if you ask, and they will probably be apologetic if it's not possible.

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    An example of the kind of rule that some funding agencies might have is that the majority of the days on the trip be related to business. – Noah Snyder Apr 17 '16 at 3:00
  • @NoahSnyder another is simply that you have to arrive on the day before the first business activity and leave on the day after after the last one. Such a rule is quite silly, because it means you always have to spend the first day of a conference half asleep from jet lag, but I've worked in more than one institute that had that rule, in two different countries. – Nathaniel Apr 17 '16 at 5:20
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    @Nathaniel when there are collaborators in the same city, a gentle meeting may be arranged - with a proper agenda of course - on the day before the conference. – Chris H Apr 18 '16 at 8:18
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To complement StrongBad's answer I'll address directly a few points of your question:

Is it impolite to suggest that he book a double room, and we pay half of the price from our own pocket?

No, it's not impolite: there should be no problem for them to ask refund for just half of the hotel's invoice.

It is probable that I will be invited to some social gatherings - maybe beer after a seminar, maybe dinner.

Of course it depends on your host, but as a European, and according to my experience around Europe, for a week-long visit, there might not be many social events, probably just a dinner. You can surely tell your host that you would like to come with your girlfriend.

Would it be OK to stretch the visit for an extra weekend after the research is done

Whether it's ok or not depends on the administration of the university which refunds the flight: if it's your host's, ask them; if it's yours, ask your university administration.

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    I can guarantee you the university has no procedures in place for paying external-visitor accommodation where they split the cost 50:50. Any accountant would take one look such an invoice and say "what the hell were you thinking? This exposes us to so many legal issues I don't know where to begin". – Wetlab Walter Apr 17 '16 at 15:06
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    @J.J It depends on country, university etc. I'm aware of many universities that allow such a split. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 17 '16 at 15:40
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    My experience has been that often schools can just book you a two person room and pay for the whole thing. – Noah Snyder Apr 17 '16 at 23:50
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    @J.J at my institution, not a problem, you would simply request reimbursement for part of the cost and explain with a note why. I would more likely, though, request for the cost of equivalent single accommodation (with evidence such as a quote for a single room) rather than half. It may be impossible at your institution but it is far from a universal rule. – user24098 Apr 18 '16 at 7:23
  • Right, paying for 1 extra-large deluxe single or double room is OK so long as it can be justified as a requirement to get a certain person to come to the university/institute - but the university cant just hand out the cash. They have to keep invoices else whats stopping them from making up a bunch of scenarios where cash was given to people that never existed, and the money really ended up as a tax-fee, charitable donation to the dean and his/her assistant? This may not be a universal truth, but its common enough to warrant mentioning – Wetlab Walter Apr 18 '16 at 7:41
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The most important thing is to ask in advance.

Often, administration works by the principle that anything that reduces the cost is okay with them. They might even accept a flight arriving a day earlier or leaving later if it is documented to be cheaper (this mostly works if a weekend is inbetween - a flight arriving wednesday, leaving friday is usually more expensive than one returning on sunday because of business travelers. Usually the night sat-sun is reducing the price). Similarly, splitting a double room usually reduces cost (and you might not even need a double room - if its a single bed double occupancy, they might pay it completely, or minus breakfast). The tricky part is knowing in advance what documentation is required (e.g. a screenshot of the booking site, comparing best fares).

Often they won't expect you to be around every night, in particularly when visiting a research group: many members will want to spend the evening with their families, too (this is different on a conference, where almost everybody is not local; it is advisable to join the events there for networking). I have been on a number of trips where I was on my own at night.

But consider that you'll both have a different experience if you spend most of your day separated. Sometimes it may be nicer if e.g. you arrive a week earlier for your research, and after completing work, you spend a second week (or even just the weekend) of vacation together. Then it's a true shared experience. Otherwise, she'll be seeing a lot of places and things that you did not. And she might not want to go to all these places a second time with you.

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Being a PhD student/candidate is quite different from having earned one's PhD...There are some who would see such behaviour as presumptuous, bordering on entitlement--regardless of the student's motivation. The time allotted to you is to get to know you, your behaviour, ability to interact with a number of people, professional and ancillary, in as many situations as possible...it's their dime.

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    Sure, it's their dime during the working hours, but I would imagine that it's up to me how I spend the rest of my time. Where's the problem? – Jakub Konieczny Apr 18 '16 at 21:53
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    It depends on how much the guest value you (professionally-academically), not on whether you have PhD or not. – xmp125a Mar 3 '17 at 10:13

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