I secured a grant from my university for traveling to a conference. But it was not enough and so my supervisor supported me. There are 5 other students who got the university grant and he supported them as well. I had also applied for ACM grant and I secured it but I receive it only after I visit the conference.

Now my supervisor has ordered me to give the complete ACM grant to him because he supported me. I am not sure if it is ethical. I wish to use this money for another conference which I plan to attend. I am OK with giving the money to him or school, but since I got the grant it should be spent on my endeavors and not be used by anybody else. Am I wrong to think like this?

Edit : My application to ACM grant was independent. I wrote the application myself without support from anyone. In fact, the paper which I wrote was also written by me, with some changes from another supervisor. The idea was completely mine, as well - with no inputs from anybody else.

Edit : In the light of this event and other instances of being bulleyed into doing things which are unacceptable to me I have decided to quit working with my supervisor. Does this make any difference? If at all I have to return, I wish to return the money to university and not to this supervisor.

  • I'm not sure what ACM is. Also, are you in US, or elsewhere?
    – user21264
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 6:49
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    ACM is a body/association for computer scientists. Like IEEE for electrical engineers (/computer scientists). Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 8:09
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    He supported you for the travel, so let's say he gave you $X. Now, you got the grant, say $Y. Does he want the money he gave you back, so X, or does he want the whole Y? It might be reasonable to ask for X, as you got travel grands from elsewhere and X can be used for other students, but he shouldn't be asking for all of Y...
    – Dirk
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 9:12

5 Answers 5


Take into account that ethically (and often legally) speaking you cannot be reimbursed more than once for a conference trip.

I am assuming that the ACM grant was a travel grant to cover the expenses for the conference, right?

The most reasonable option, given that you found external funding, is to return the money from the university grant + your professor's, using that same ACM grant.

It's not your professor's business to decide what you do with the remaining money from that grant, if there is any.

Your professor should actually be happy that you were able to get external funding so you could attend at 0 cost for the University and his team.

Saying that you have to pay back more to him than he "loaned you" because "he supported you" tells a lot about your professor already: he does not support or help students because he considers it's his duty or job, but in exchange for future rewards.

Unfortunately, this bullying, favor/grant-exchanging, mob-behavior is not new to many of us at all.

  • Yes it is a travel grant. And my supervisor gets separate grant from university for conference travels, he is not paying from pocket! Moreover, I have had enough with this person. I will not work with him anymore. I am requesting the university to help me get a new supervisor, or whatever that process is.
    – user58480
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:05
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    @Damodar While the money he gave you come from another grant, and not his pocket, keep in mind that any grant has a limit. Because he supported you for this conference, it is possible that in the future he won't have money to support another student for a conference, or even not to travel himself.
    – Nick S
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 17:57
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    @Damodar Also, keep in mind that you are basically telling him: I got some travel grant, but I will use YOUR funds for this conference because I want to save my funds for something else. BUT, if he asking to be reimbursed more money than he used from his grant, that is totally unrealistic.
    – Nick S
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:00
  • OK. I got it. I will return him the money, even though I hate that he ordered me to do it. I wish I could return it to school instead because they gave me the grant and a large part of if.
    – user58480
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 20:58

In general you can use grant money only for the purposes you applied for and the rules for what the money can be used are usually quite detailed.

Hence, you have to check the rules and your application of the ACM grant you've gotten. Usually a grant comes with a specific description for what it can be used and for what it can't. If your grant says, for example, that only the recipient can use it for traveling, then you would violate the rules of that grant if you would let somebody else use it for anything. If you don't have the regulations and rules for your grant at hand, ask the grant agency, i.e. the ACM in this case.

The fact that you wrote the application yourself without support from anyone is irrelevant.

Also, the fact that the grant was given retroactively is irrelevant. You should use it according to the guidelines.

  • The money is given after I have traveled. So in any case I cannot use it for traveling as I have already traveled. I will ask ACM about it. The reason I mentioned about support is because my supervisor claims that he supported me so I must give the full amount.
    – user58480
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:13
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    @Damodar Travel grants are often given retroactively. That is, the recipient pays for the travel themselves, and is then reimbursed by the travel grant. Is the grant for more than the total your supervisor gave you? I don't see anything untoward about reimbursing him for the full amount he paid you.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:42
  • He did not pay from his pocket. He paid from another grant. So technically this money goes for him to use in any way he wants.
    – user58480
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 11:12
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    @Damodar Yes, of course it is not from his own pocket but perhaps he would prefer to use that money from the other grant on something else. You're trying to find an ethical impediment where there is none. You just need to sort this out on a personal level with your supervisor.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:41

I you received retroactive money for travel to a specific conference that your supervisor paid for you to go to, you should absolutely make every effort to look into the official ways of getting your supervisor's money back into your supervisor's account through your school's accounting offices. Usually, your department will have a staff member who would know how to go about this.

I wouldn't just sign the check over to your supervisor to establish a petty cash fund. This isn't how this sort of stuff is done. Whether the funding agency allows you to keep any surplus for any use you see fit, you'd have to look into, but I would consider that ingrateful behavior to a mentor who was generous enough to fund your travel.

The clear risk is that your boss will never pay to send you to a conference again.

One alternative, especially if administrative issues make the transfer of funds difficult, and if you are allowed to spend surplus however you want, is to work with your supervisor to find something on his wish list that would also be of use to you, and buy it.

  • My supervisor wants all such grants to be submitted to him so that it can be used for the group. That is my problem. It was a grant which I got for my travel. So I must have a say in how it is used.
    – user58480
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:15
  • Money is fungible. He gets his money back, and can do with it as he wants. He has no right to turn is encumbered money into free money, though. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:33

First, as already mentioned in a previous answer, check out the rules for that grant. It seems a retroactively paid grant, which makes fully logical that you should give it back to your supervisor. In this light, he simply anticipated a sum that else you should have anticipated. About the difference, it depends on the first point, and on its amount (does not make sense if it is 10 euros).

Whenever I secured external grants for attending conferences, normally the latter were already paid by my supervisor. It is clear that I went back to him to tell the good news. He always said I should keep them (even as my pocket money). In addition to the fact that he was happy to do that, I suspect that it could have been not very simple to put that amount of cash into the group balance, since I, as an individual, I would have been the source. However this is his - or its secretary - problem.


It is ethical to ask, if the ACM amount is equal or less than what he gave you. If it is higher then he should provide a reason why he thinks you owe him more. Simple as that.

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