Travel budgets

Feb 09 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In other grant thoughts for the morning, what are other NSFers putting in their travel budgets for conference travel. When I first started writing grants, someone told me it was normal to add $1K for a domestic conference and $2K for a foreign one. More recently I've realized that I can't walk out the door for less than about $1.5K and if I'm going overseas, we're talking at least $3k, but that's pushing it. Airfare is up and housing is often pricey. Add registration costs, etc., and the costs mount.

So I decided to adjust my budget accordingly in some recent grants. I colleague of mine actually noticed the increase when I asked the to take a quick look over the proposal and remarked that reviewers might think that was too much.

In various ways I have seen this type of thing manifest itself - "the cost of X must be $Y or else reviewers will baulk". But what if the cost of X is much greater than $Y? My opinion is that a couple of grand here or there in a grant budget is small change that no one should care about (hell, you could rebudget later if needed anyway), but this I've seen this type of reaction enough to be concerned about it in the review process.

So ask the NSFers among you, what are budgeting for travel? Has a reviewer ever remarked on that portion of your budget?

12 responses so far

  • anon says:

    I budgeted $3k per year for travel expense and explained that it will be used for both the PI and one trainee to attend one conference per year (domestic). I did not get any complaints from reviewers. This amount is still quite low - registration fees for some conferences are outrageously expensive and prohibitive to people like me who run a small lab on a pitifully small budget.

  • Pika says:

    I'm in Europe, so this is a bit different, but here the national/international agencies usually have the following standard figures: conference in Europe = 1500-2000 EUR, conference overseas = 2500-3000 EUR. This pretty much usually covers registration, flight, hotel and food with sometimes a bit to spare (e.g. depending if the conference is in expensive Scandinavia or some cheaper southern or eastern European country).

  • odyssey says:

    I've been budgeting $3k which is enough to pay for a grad student and I to attend a domestic meeting each year, plus I have just enough left to pay for the lab to attend a very cheap, small, highly specialized meeting we can drive to. In the end though, this isn't really enough. I will be considering $5k/yr. in my renewal.

    I've never received a review that mentioned how much I had budgeted, nor have I ever made such a comment as a reviewer/panelist (unless there was no justification whatsoever).

  • MediumPriority4Life says:

    So I just had one grant funded by NSF and I got away with $1,300 per domestic meeting and about another $1,000 each year for some collaboration travel. No reviewer said a thing about my budget. When the grant was funded and I needed to shed a few thousand dollars, this was one place where some of the difference was made up by subtraction.
    So naturally my society decides to take the meeting to Montreal this year and the meeting cost will run well over $1300 for me.

    In my opinion, you only get so much money from an NSF grant and if you feel that travel is where to spend it and the proposal is great- safe travels to you.

  • Yael says:

    An acquaintance got dinged by a reviewer on an NSF proposal because he did requested money for two grad students, but no money for conferences. Basically "what is the training potential?!" (this was a comp sci/engineering grant)

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Pika, those numbers at least seem reasonable. I think Odyssey is right that we have no choice but to inflate the numbers to meet the need. I have had a PO tell me that I should put in whatever travel budget made the work possible, but that was for the research. Their point was that it is a very small slice in the Grand Scheme, but I think that also counts, to a certain extent, when it comes to dissemination. We're expected to do it, so we need to budget accordingly.

  • phagenista says:

    I've never had NSF complain about travel budgeting, and I've budgeted at least $1500 for each domestic meeting in the last few grant applications. I recently had a private foundation adjust my travel budget upwards because they felt it was too low.

  • Heavy says:

    $1617.00 for travel for one person calculated out based on the rates set by my university for the likely locale of the conference. I've only ever been questioned/dinged when I haven't asked for enough.

  • postdoc mom says:

    I recently served on a panel and nobody cared if proposals had $1 to $3K for meetings as long as it seemed reasonable and it was justified (# of people, is an international meeting necessary for the scope of the research?).
    One proposal had a very vague travel budget yet was asking for $15K per year. Sure, they wanted to go to a few domestic field sites and a few meetings, but I just couldn't figure out why they would need that much travel money each year unless they were taking a herd of undergrads along. This was the only proposal where the travel budget was even discussed.

  • lylebot says:

    I do $1.5K each for two domestic conferences/year and $3K for one international conference/year ($6000/year total). In my budget justification I lay out all the costs (hotel room, airfare, registration) of recent conferences to show how I got those numbers.

    I've always been told if the NSF decides they won't fund part of your proposal, they'll just reduce your budget. I've heard about travel being cut by NSF. They won't reject the whole thing just because you ask for too much travel.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm not concerned about NSF, but the reviewers. Ideally, there should be no discussion of your budget. And IME, NSF just tells you to cut $x from the budget, but let's you decide from where.

  • We always put $2k, almost always without specifying destination, and no reviewer at any US or Canadian government or charitable agency has ever queried it.

    Putting it up to $3k might count as what one PI of my acquaintance calls "budgetary cannon fodder" for those reviewers who can't possibly be happy unless they cut something 🙂

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