As I talked about in yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about lab finances lately. For the most part, I’ve done this on my own, staring into what sometimes feels like an abyss of spreadsheets in my office. A lot of the recent spreadsheet crunching has centered around some personnel decisions I need to make soon. After spending a while thinking things through on my own, I decided that this would be a good opportunity to talk through some aspects of lab financial management with my lab members.
Overall, I think I’m somewhere in the middle of the road in terms of discussing finances with my lab. I share grant proposals with lab members, but, because the budgets contain salaries, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that portion with the lab and remove it from the pdf. But I think there’s value in them understanding the general process of how things work, so I wonder if I should find a way to share more information with them. The way that fringe benefits and overhead cause budget numbers to balloon is generally completely shocking to people who hadn’t heard of them in the past. I think my lab members are aware of that, but I suspect the numbers I had in yesterday’s post (most specifically, that a $40,000 salary takes away $82,000 from a grant’s bottom line) would still be surprising. They still always shock me a little when I see them!
As I said, a lot of my current budget crunching relates to personnel decisions I have to make soon. At first, I was running through all the options on my own, but eventually decided that I should talk a little more about it with my lab. I think the increased dialogue has been good, both because it directly affects them now, and because it provides them some more information on what life as a PI is like (which is valuable as they consider that as a possible career path).
Should I discuss more specific numbers with them? My inclination is not to. It doesn’t seem right to me to discuss people’s salaries (which is a huge component of the budget for my lab). I’m sure my reticence is influenced by having been raised with the belief that money is not something that is discussed.* While it’s possible that having my lab members slog through some spreadsheets would provide valuable experience, I tend to think it’s not so valuable as to be worth their time. At the same time, it seems problematic that future PIs receive no training in how to manage budgets.
While I mostly haven’t discussed specific numbers with my lab, I have tried to emphasize that people are expensive. I think this is important in trying to avoid penny wise, pound foolish solutions. For example, if something costs $200 but would save them weeks of work, that’s totally worth it. In my experience, there’s often an inclination to undervalue the cost of one’s time when thinking about possible purchases.
If you’re a PI, how much do you discuss lab finances with lab members? If you’re a student, postdoc, or technician: how much does your PI discuss lab finances with you and the rest of the lab? Do you think that is the right amount, or would more/less be preferable?
* Whether or not that is a good thing is debatable. I remember very clearly, as a grad student, when I heard I had received a postdoctoral fellowship; when another grad student heard this, the first thing she asked was what my salary would be. I was shocked at such a forward question. But when I relayed that to a mentor later, he pointed out that being open about salaries is a good thing, given all the evidence for inequities in pay.