Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Who Pays for Trips?

If Professor Alice at Faber College visits Dr. Bob at the University of Southern North Dakota, who should cover Alice's expenses? 

It depends on who does the asking. If Bob invites Alice to visit then Bob's school or grant should pay. If Alice invites herself she should offer to cover her expenses via her funds. Whether or not she gives a talk doesn't really matter though a distinguished lecturer should always get reimbursed.

If Alice goes to a conference, she should cover the expenses even if she gives a talk. Plenary lecturers often get free conference registration and/or travel reimbursement but this seems to vary dramatically by the conference and discipline.

What if Alice is going to a wedding in North Dakota and offers to stop by USND? Certainly Alice should not expect money from Bob. How much can Alice use of her grant money versus personal money for such trips. That's up to her own ethics (and various laws).

All of the above goes out the window if just one of Alice or Bob has travel funds.

Typically Alice books her own air travel. Local travel and lodging is either booked by Bob or Bob makes suggestions to Alice.

Sometimes to save money or just be friendly, Bob is willing to host Alice at his house (in the guest room). If Alice feels more comfortable in a hotel, she should carefully suggest it and offer to cover the extra cost.

Alice shouldn't expect an honorarium since part of Alice's job is to promote her research, and thus her university, to the broad community. But Alice need not turn down an honorarium if offered, though she needs to declare it as income on her tax returns. If Alice works for a company or the government there might be policies against receiving honorariums. 

Above all Alice and Bob should work out who pays ahead of time. Also one needs to know rules on funding that differ at universities and granting agencies (NSF requires use of US airlines for example) and what level of hotel one should use. And always best to avoid bad feelings if one has disagreements on reimbursements after the fact.


  1. Isn't this a fair division problem?
    Alice is lecturing in North Dakota. Two universities want her to lecture.
    She also wants to visit a friend. So she thinks she would pay 20% of her cost just to visit the friend.

    The big university gets more benefit out of her lecture as it hass more students etc. So it pays 50% of the costs and the small one 30%.

    Stick all this into a linear program and you have you answer...

  2. Alice always seems to be visiting Bob, and staying over at his house when she visits. Makes you wonder if there is something going on there. Boy, what would I give to be a fly on the wall there?

    -- Eve

  3. haha, you know, for greater tolerance you could exchange alice with andrew. so we would have

    "andrew always seems to be visiting bob, .... "

    snicker ;)

  4. well, then the question is really ... would you stil give to be a fly wall ?

    Anyhow, I have a strange feeling that if such a collaboration is in existence either between andrew and bob or alice and bob, that the pvsnp problem is being successfully tackled.

    in that case, i would still want to be that fly on the wall.

  5. What if Alice was invited by Bob and Bob agreed to pay expenses but Alice is extremely late in sending her expense receipts? At what point is it too late? Can Alice call Bob and say, "remember my visit two years ago? ..."

  6. Suppose you are from a small/remote/unfamous/otherwise-disadvantaged institution, and you want to invite lots of people to come through, give talks, and generally upgrade the knowledge of theory research at your university.

    What are the ethics of asking for lots of travel money on an NSF grant for this purpose? How closely related should the topic of the talk be to the topic of the research grant?

    More generally, the NSF seems to be making it harder to use grant funds as "general research funds" -- e.g., they recently tightened the rules on buying computers.

    How will this (or should this) affect the theory community, where research tends not to be organized into well-circumscribed "projects"?

  7. To Top 30 Professor, what a pity that you aren't under the top 10.

    Get the communist party involved and hope for millions of funding. that's at least what I heard happened somewhere in Beijing. unlimited funding.