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The Lab Budget's in More Red than a Friday the 13th Movie
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The Lab Budget’s in More Red than a Friday the 13th Movie

Dear Dora: Lab budgetDear Dora,

Our lab frequently operates in the red, but my PI says it’s normal.  Are they telling the truth or should I be seriously concerned about my job security?

-Wes, grad student

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Dear Wes,

It is true that some groups in academia (and industry) operate at or near the red these days. In other words, they barely have enough funds to cover their expenses and might even need to borrow from other programs to make ends meet. Operating close to red is normal in the sense that many funding agencies give deadlines by which the grants have to be spent. In other words, if the money is not spent by the deadline it goes back to the agency. This policy makes financial planning difficult for PI’s, because they try to spend all the money by the deadline, and then they do not have enough for unforeseen expenses.

Graduate students stipends are usually handled separately from lab expenses, however. In some schools, the departments cover graduate student stipends at least for the first few years. In that case, the students do not need to worry about their PI’s funding situation. If you are concerned, then it would make sense for you to find out your department’s policy on stipends. Your department website or headquarters probably has information on this. Your labmates are also a good resource, and you can find out whether your PI has trouble getting stipends for students. There have been cases when the PI’s had to graduate their students early, because they ran out of funding, but PI’s usually have 6-12 months notice of such budget cuts. Hopefully your department has other ways of funding students such as through teaching assistantships and fellowships.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about your PI’s funding situation or spending habits. You can explore your department’s policy on graduate student stipends, and discuss your options with your group members. After all, if you operate in the red frequently, they must be just as concerned as you!

Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to DearDora@benchfly.com and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!

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Stay tuned for the next Dear Dora in two weeks!  In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:

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Submit your questions to Dora at DearDora@benchfly.com, or use the comment box below!

 

4 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Sean

    wrote on June 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Wes,

    We have been able to save a lot of money by shopping around for lab chemicals and supplies.

  2. Sean

    wrote on June 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Wes,

    We have been able to save a lot of money by shopping around for lab chemicals and supplies.

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