28 September 2017

Paying out of pocket

Anne Madden asked:

Academic scientists, how many of you have contributed significant out of pocket funds (or fam. $) to make your science happen?

 My newest paper cost me, personally, at least $5,919.21.

Every month for five years, I drove from Edinburg to Beach Access Road #6 on South Padre Island. Google Maps says that 92.2 miles, so that 184.4 miles round trip. Five years is 60 months, and the going rate for mileage reimbursement in Texas is $0.535.

92.2 miles × 2 × 5 × 12 × $0.535 / mile = $5,919.21.

And I know there are months I went more than once, so that is a conservative estimate. I also ate lunch on every one of those collecting trips. So maybe another $600 on top of that.

That project also involved family money, because my mom bought a new shovel when I was on the beach collecting and the one I was using broke.

It’s probably good if I don’t do this calculation very often.

I also paid out of pocket for this year’s American Society for Parasitologists meeting in San Antonio. The meeting was practically in my backyard (only a four hour drive; that’s close in Texas), so was relatively cheap (a drive to San Antonio is much less than a plane ticket). It was close to the end of the fiscal year (ours starts 1 September), and there is rarely travel money in the budget by then. Plus, there’s just less paperwork.

That said, I know I have it better, and I have reached a point of financial security where I can “opt out” of dealing with the torture that is university purchasing and reimbursement. Others are not so lucky. Here’s Holly Bik (lightly edited):

Serious proposal: If we want more minorities / first generation students to stay in science, we need to fix the travel reimbursement pyramid scheme.

I just found out that my university, University of California Riverside, can only prepay my conference registrations with a paper form (and it takes 3 weeks). Admins can’t pay anything travel-related with credit cards (they don’t have them). Seriously. It’s 2017. Everything is online.

I’m a first generation college student with $150,000 in student loan debt. And now UC Riverside wants me to pay more than $5,000 out of pocket for my work-related travel. For this summer’s conferences, I’ve probably paid more than $200 in credit card interest while waiting for reimbursements (money I don’t get back). Travel reimbursements varies across universities – some are pretty good. But UC Riverside is probably one of the worst I’ve experienced to date.

Sometimes there are the “perfect storms” of conference, workshop, etc., travel invites. And these are so important for early career people. So if you have money, you can travel for work (and suck up out of pocket expenses). And you meet people, build a network, have successful career. But if you are saddled with debt, you may forgo important opportunities because you just can’t eat up those travel costs. Your career suffers.

The biggest irony is that UC Riverside is proud of us first generation grads and faculty, but institutional bureaucracy works against us in horrible ways.

Institutional purchasing is terrible. And sometimes I think it’s bad on purpose, to drive people like me into paying for thing myself that the university should pay for, just because I don’t want to deal with the perpetual hassle and headaches of trying to fill out forms and get reimbursed.

Update, 29 September 2017:  Tara Smith contributes to the discussion.

From Bik’s thread, some places seem to be able to front costs–why can’t that be universal? It seems like a small thing when you have money, but for many struggling academics it’s the difference between “making it” and leaving the field.

Related posts

Indie spirit
Who paid for my open access articles?

External links

The high cost of academic reimbursement


Anonymous said...

I pretty much refuse to pay for research related things out of pocket on principle. Exceptions being the whole travel reimbursement thing, and I pay for 1 or 2 society memberships since Uni rules only allow max two professional memberships to be paid for by funding. Never mind that the membership pays for itself in meeting fee reductions and publication cost reductions. I am lucky enough to have the funding to do it. Oh, also sometimes lunch for the labbies I will pay for out of pocket! And UG society membership costs when that comes up. My spouse, however, blurs the line between research & personal interest/hobby, so I think we often pay for bits & sundry for his projects out of our household budget.

Tflofasho said...

Surprise surprise... You know, that is honestly and seriously the oldest trick in the book dealing with people who've got the gall to say "don't worry, we got you covered, we'll pay for that." and never pull through, intended or not. It may as well be the same as your deadbeat cousin saying he'll pay for $5 of gas and only comes back out paying 2.80 for it because the rest went to cigarettes and soda all of a sudden. Schools and attorneys are notorious for this wicked practice with both these micro and macro financing conditions and end up getting mad at you if they claim you crossed borders with them when they're the ones drawing the borders all around you and erasing the one that was naturally right in front of you saying you violated them. That just usually goes to show just exactly how cheap and pitiful a lot of these tricky people play at. Texas sharp shooter fallacy. Painting a target over the shot spot. *bang* $$$