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It seems like funding in the lab in which I am working is getting tight. Since I usually end up spending a fair amount of said funding to buy supplies for the lab and my coworkers, it’d be nice to have an accurate picture of the lab’s financial situation so that I can make more informed decisions.

I’ve pretty directly indicated to my adviser that I’m interested in more details about how the funding situation in the lab is, but it seems my adviser doesn’t want to talk about it. On the couple cases I’ve mentioned it, they’ve avoided directly talking about it or have given me very vague and not very useful responses. I'm sure there's always a great deal of uncertainty in the future of the funding situation, but it would feel helpful to know where we stand at the present moment if nothing else.

I’m currently self-funded, so I’m not particularly concerned about losing my job or anything. I’m sure my adviser would tell me before things got too crazy bad, but I’d just rather not be so in the dark about these things. How unusual is it for advisers to hide this info from their students? Would it be appropriate / inappropriate for me to push further? I realize that funding is probably a somewhat sore and frustrating subject for many professors.

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    Possibly the responses have been vague because they themselves are not sure what the near future holds. In some fields, funding can be... terrifyingly unpredictable. – ff524 Dec 12 '16 at 9:27
  • While some rare cases are quite open (which means they trust their group members significantly), in most cases group leaders will be discrete about financial situations. Note that if this response reads like a horoscope, it is because these situations are as varied as personalities of group leaders. – Captain Emacs Dec 12 '16 at 9:41
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The cultures differ on this point. In some countries, a PI's lab is a bit like his "private" business, or an extension of his/her house. The success of the lab fully depends on the PI's recognition, achievements, and sheer luck with the funding bodies. Naturally, PIs can be over-protective about what happens in "their kingdom", particularly if things are not going well (do they ever?)

In other places the Lab "belongs" to a University, and PI's simply inhabit it, just like postdocs, PhD students and technicians. They have some academic powers and are still responsible for finding the money to keep the place running, but the management powers are to a large extent taken away by HRs, Finance's, Senior Management, etc. It is often, but not always, lead to a better transparency, because University acts in the best interests of all employers, or at least tries to make it look like this. However, in this case PIs may not be fully aware what the situation with their funding is, particularly if University is not doing well.

In theory, as someone working in the Lab, you are a stakeholder and have all the rights to know what's going on and how long the place will run. In practice, the situation can be terribly unpredictable, and even you PI may not know what is going to happen.

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I am not sure why you would have to know too many details about the budget of the whole lab. Unless you are in charge of every single project, it is probably not of your concern. If you manage one or more projects than I think you should be entitled to know more details about the budget of said projects, if you are in charge of purchases or managing people. One indirect way of asking would be when you have to make some significant purchase and you have different options, than at that point you could argue with your advisor that to better manage the budget you need more info. Otherwise I don't see why you should know or worry too much about it.

  • I think you misunderstood me. I didn't mean to imply that I want to know the finances of all of all of my adviser's projects, just my own. My lab = 1 project which I am in charge of. – aquirdturtle Dec 12 '16 at 17:03
  • @aquirdturtle my answer is a general answer and still applies to your case. – Herman Toothrot Dec 12 '16 at 17:04

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