Imagine that we have achieved the goal of a grant before the money runs out. Should we use the rest of money to make the research more advanced even though it won't be useful in the direction of the proposal?

For example the grand is for computer science research with a specific application to medicine. Should we use the rest of the medical grant money in advancing the research in computer science even though it would not be much needed in that specific medical application?

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    And how do you know for sure it won't be of any use ever?
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 2, 2017 at 23:28
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    Spending grant funds on something outside the scope of the proposal sounds to me like grant fraud. That can get you banned from receiving future funding, and in some cases it could be a crime. Jun 2, 2017 at 23:55
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    @user74315 I suspect your research office will tell you that giving back grant money is incredibly complicated, a major hassle, generally a no-no, overall better to be avoided, makes you look unprofessional, they have now put it into their budget, and they would rather not. They will also quite likely ask you whether there is no way the study could be deepened, expanded, commercialized, .. you name it. Jun 3, 2017 at 1:45
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    Is this an actual situation, or just theoretical? I have never been involved in a project that could not be usefully polished in some way, given spare resources. Jun 3, 2017 at 10:33
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    Depends very much on the terms of the grant. I work for a major public clinical trials funder - if there is any money left over at the end of a project we expect it back. You'd best check the paperwork associated with the money.
    – rhialto
    Jun 3, 2017 at 22:03

3 Answers 3


Different funding agencies (and programs within agencies) have different relationships with the specificity that they want in results. Some are much more comfortable with their investigators "following where the science leads," while others really care about the exact pre-specified goals of the project.

Without further information about the funder and the type of grant, it's impossible to say what degree of flexibility there is likely to be in how the money gets used. The definitive source for this information is generally the program manager for the grant, and your supervisor should have been having periodic interactions with the program manager that could provide guidance on this decision. If they haven't, that's a warning sign, but that may be difficult for you to know since students are rarely included in such interactions in any case.

Taking actions that go against the funder regulations or program manager guidance can cause big trouble. The risk is primarily for your supervisor, but you might get tarnished by association, particularly if you knew an action was dubious and didn't talk to anybody. If there are other professors that you know and trust (or a university ombudsperson or ethics office), you might talk to them to be able to share more details and get a more informed opinion---as well as to shield yourself from possible negative consequences if your misgivings prove well founded.

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    Even if there have not been regular interactions, reaching the main goal seems like something that should be reported to the program manager, with discussion of what happens next. Jun 6, 2017 at 23:25

Your question is framed as a false binary.

In my view the most ethical response is to use the leftover money for related research, i.e. in the area of computer science in medicine in your example.


What you can do with any 'left over' money depends very much on the terms of the grant or contract you're working under.

I work for a major public clinical trials funder - if there is any money left over at the end of a project we expect it back. Every project gets a formal financial reconciliation at the end to make sure the money was spend how it should have been. Other funders in my country take a more relaxed view.

You'd best check the paperwork associated with the money to see what you're allowed to do with it.

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