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Repaying Research Grant?


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Hey All,

I'm in a bit of a tough spot. My graduate school awarded me a pre-dissertation research grant, basically a modest amount to fund a 4 week trip to foreign archives. Unfortunately in the days immediately before the trip I had a family concern escalate quickly from problem to crisis and was unable to go on my trip. I tried to rearrange, etc., but was not able to do even that, and it quickly became possible I could not have gone in any case. Refunds of the travel costs are unlikely. Beyond this, I am going to need to take a leave of absence for at least this upcoming academic year.  

I need to inform my dept ASAP, but how is this likely to play out? I don't think the leave of absence will be a problem. My financial situation, though, is precarious enough and I am worried thy are going to expect me to return the grant money.


Edited by Eleanor1985
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I am sorry to hear about your troubles! Definitely talk to your dept and the funders ASAP. 

Has your original travel date passed yet? Time is of the essence because the earlier you cancel your tickets, the more options you have. Even "non-refundable" tickets does not mean the money is lost forever, they usually mean that you cannot get your money back, but your money spent can be used towards flight credit after subtracting some cancellation fee (usually $250 or so). Furthermore, if you inform them soon enough, it may also be possible to pay another fee to transfer the credits to another name (usually credits only valid for the original ticketed passenger).

It's important to speak to the funders (the grad school?) right away because they might want to transfer your ticket to another student they have awarded a grant to. Of course, this all depends on what ticket price you're talking about...is it a domestic flight where the fees will eat up all of the value or an international flight that costs over $2000?

In addition, I recommend calling all of the bookings you have made. If it's before the travel date still, you might be surprised about the flexibility some companies have, despite online barriers or policies listed. For example, for a personal trip, I had to cancel my Priceline hotel and car bookings because of a death in the family. Priceline.com requires you to pay upfront and has a strict no-changes, no-cancellation policy. However, when I called them and explained the situation, they immediately refunded my purchase. 

Also, do you have any travel insurance with these purchases? Check all the sources for insurance: if you booked through your school, your school might have something; if you used a credit card, check that card's policies. 

In the end, I think if you have shown you have done everything you can to mitigate losses, and that your crisis was unexpected, you can hope for the best case scenario where you repay the travel funds but the school will cover all of your cancellation fees (or whatever costs you are unable to recoup). However, this is not a guarantee, you should be prepared for (and also to fight against) the worst case scenario where the school expects you to pay for these costs out of pocket. Schools "shouldn't" do this, but I have no idea what your school might choose to do. In any case, taking the steps above will help you either get a good decision from them or fight against their complete-repayment policies if that happens. Good luck!

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Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. My travel dates have passed, and even though I tried for some refunds, I basically got <$100 of the total cost. I do not think worse timing could have happened. My advisor/department have been supportive so far, and it seems like the grant might not even come up. Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope that a leave of absence does not put funding for when I return in jeopardy.

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