I am working on a research project that the university and my PI talked me into applying for a research grant through the university, and I got it. I'm happy that they considered my part of the project worth the award, but now I have concerns and want to decline it, mainly because of the presentation requirement.

  1. The presentation will take a lot more time and effort than I thought it would.

  2. The project involves things that I know nothing about. I know my piece, but it's my understanding that I need to present on the entire project.

  3. It will be an all day thing and I can honestly make more money at my job that day than the grant is worth.

I'm thrilled they awarded me the grant, and I want to stay on for the project, but I want to politely decline the money.

Edit I didn't really want to apply for the grant, but my PI wanted me to and the stipend I'll get directly offsets a small bill from the university, so I applied. I found out that I get the money after I present my work at the end of next semester, long after I paid the bill. Nowhere in the paperwork did it mention the delay, otherwise I would not have applied and just worked on the project for free.

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    I've never been on the awarding side of the grant process, but I feel like you needed to consider this before you applied. Now that you've done so and won, you can't back out without looking bad in the department and burning bridges.
    – Jeff
    Dec 6, 2016 at 21:04
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    The value of such a grant award can extend far beyond just the dollar/pound/Euro/yen amount. And, you get practice on your 1 and 2 which will serve you well in the future, regardless of where or what it is.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 6, 2016 at 21:18
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    I agree with my predecessors. A grant is a bit like a mini-degree. It is a documentation that you have been found worthy of getting the money. Even if it is a pittance, getting it may have been competitive, so the monetary element is less important than the esteem component. #2 is thus the most critical point for you. Dec 6, 2016 at 21:27
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    Before you do anything rash, you need to find out what bridges you're burning, and perhaps more importantly, who's bridges. For example, will this lessen the likelihood of any of your PI's students being awarded this sort of grant in the future. I don't know the answers, but I certainly think you should talk this over with your PI before taking any action. Frankly, letting yourself get into this sort of situation is a bit irresponsible. Dec 6, 2016 at 21:58
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    As far as I understand your main issue is that you don't want to present the results of your work. I suggest you consider why you don't want to do this and then work on overcoming the problem. Not being willing to present your work is career-limiting.
    – user9482
    Dec 7, 2016 at 7:00

4 Answers 4


How do I politely decline a research grant?

Let's be clear here. Based on your account I'm getting the impression that, with a reasonably high level of confidence, there is no way for you to "politely" decline the grant. The very action of declining will reflect poorly on you and show you to be an unreliable and difficult to work with person, and is likely to upset your PI and the funding agency who went to the trouble to evaluate your application. So, it's not about the "how". It's the action of declining that is by its nature impolite.

You may feel this is unfair. You may feel that you were given inaccurate information at the time of submitting the grant that led you to make a decision you now regret. You may very well be right on both of those points. In an ideal world you would simply explain what happened and everyone would agree that it makes sense for you to decline the grant. However, in the world we actually live in, I'd say accept it, do the work, use it as a learning experience and move on. And congratulations for getting the grant, it obviously says good things about you and if you do a good job has potential to benefit you in the future in many ways other than the measly stipend.

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    Applying for a grant carries a pretty strong commitment that if funded, you will carry out the project you proposed. Of course there can be exceptions if circumstances change unexpectedly, but the current situation seems more like "buyer's remorse". It was your responsibility to make sure the conditions were acceptable before you applied. Dec 7, 2016 at 1:26
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    @NateEldredge the judgment in the last sentence of your comment is a bit harsh IMO. OP says he was misinformed about the conditions. One can assume that he trusted his advisor and other university officials to provide him with reliable information, so I think we shouldn't fault him for shirking some kind of moral responsibility. Nonetheless, my advice stands, but it is "no fault" advice based on practical concerns rather than a moral judgment.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 7, 2016 at 1:35
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    @NateEldredge seller's remorse?
    – Michael
    Dec 7, 2016 at 21:10
  • @Michael The line between "buyer" and "seller" is, admittedly, typically based on which way cash is moving, but that's an arbitrary distinction; you could just as easily re-define such that the "seller" is the one who is approached by the "buyer", or the better-known one, etc. For instance, when exchanging your currency for a foreign currency at a border, are you selling yours, buying theirs, or what?
    – Tin Wizard
    Dec 7, 2016 at 23:36
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    If OP received information directly from the funding source that was materially incorrect, I would agree. But the only such point I see in the question is that the funding body did not state the details of payment timing and OP made an assumption which turned out to be wrong. I don't think that's the same. Most people would consider this a minor detail, not really material, and if it was important to OP, he should have asked about it. I'm not trying to morally judge OP, but to explain how I think backing out will be perceived by his PI and the university. Dec 7, 2016 at 23:45

I've been in situations in which grants we've awarded in the form of research support or scholarships have been declined by the awardees because of a significant change in personal circumstances. In some cases, we have offered to defer the award. In others, we've accepted that the person is unable to accept the award and have moved on to the next applicant on the ranked list.

We have never had a situation in which an award was refused on the basis that the awardee could make more money elsewhere. I can't speak for other members on the panels I sit, but I (and I believe many others) would take offence at this reason. The details of the award, including the level of funding, are often clearly stated and we would wonder why this consideration was not top of mind prior to submission.

If I was PI on an award that I received and on which you were a part of the team, you refusing to participate on the grant is less of a problem for me. I would write to the awarding body to explain a change in staffing (which happens all the time) and divert the funding to someone else. It's likely that there are many undergraduates wanting to work on the grant anyway and, unless you've got unique skills, I should be able to turn to someone in time. In return, I would ask that you NOT cite this award in your CV because you didn't work on it at all anyway. This last bit may be particularly costly to you more so than the amount of money you could make on your other work (at least within reason). Being part of a team awarded a competitive grant as an undergraduate student is helpful when applying for admission into postgraduate programs.

Finally, and it's your last sentence above that's thrown me, you seem to suggest that you're happy to work on the project, but not receive the money.

I'm thrilled they awarded me the grant, and I want to stay on for the project, but I want to politely decline the money.

I interpret this to mean that the money is so small that you are thinking of declining the money, but are happy to fulfill the responsibilities assigned to you on the original award. If I were your PI, I would be happy with this arrangement, but only after ensuring that you would not be contravening university policies on the abuse of undergraduates who work under me.

Good luck to you.

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    The project was well underway when I applied. My PI nagged me to apply and I figured I'd use the money to pay a $150 bill I owed the university. After I got the award they told me I wouldn't get the money until May. I went through the paperwork and it never said I wouldn't get the stipend until after I present. I don't think I would have applied if I knew that. I would have just conveniently missed the deadline
    – user60356
    Dec 6, 2016 at 22:40
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    @JackSt.Claire Missing a deadline can be worse than telling your PI you don't intend to apply. A professor may be limited, either in practice or by specific rules, to recommending at most one student. If you say you are not going to apply, the PI has the option of recommending a different student. Dec 6, 2016 at 22:53
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    @PatriciaShanahan Not to mention the optics of "Could not manage to do the thing you asked me to do when it needed to be done" and the impact that might have on your relationship with your PI.
    – Fomite
    Dec 7, 2016 at 19:26

I understand your reasoning and can empathize. I've felt reluctant or ambivalent about things I've already committed myself to, including grant-contingent presentations. But addressing those feelings in a mature way will go a long way to developing your character at this early stage of your development.

Getting sufficiently familiar with the project you are on to the level that you can explain it to others is an excellent idea and great training in working on a multifaceted project. Also you'll be honing your presenting skills.

Right now you're sounding like "I only understand my tiny little part of the project, just tell me exactly what to do, don't make me understand the context, don't make me explain anything to anybody"

At this stage in your career it's not as critical for this presentation to be stellar, on point etc. but the better you can make it the more you'll get out of it. Value the opportunity, get it over with and move on.

By the way congrats on getting involved in research as an undergrad, not everyone has the motivation and opportunity to do that.


either you raise this with the PI and ask if someone else can do it, in honesty if its worth less than a days work i wouldn't have applied, or would have applied with someone else taking the credit so they deal with the paperwork.

in your position? id take the day off work to present. its always worth having that extra award on the CV.

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