Sunday, 6 October 2013

Take the money and run: a question from a young naïve researcher


This Tuesday I am lucky enough to be taking part in a panel discussion on memory at the Cheltenham Literature Festival [1]. Ultimately, they wanted my boss to take part and ended up with me, so apologies to Cheltenham in advance. Hopefully I’ll be able to contribute in my own special way and not make too much of a fool of myself.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear I am to be paid for taking part in the discussion. A princely sum of £150 I believe. This is on top of reimbursement of expenses for travel and accommodation. Here is where my naïve young research question comes in. Is it OK to take this money? I completely understand why some (e.g., self-employed/free-lance types) require fees for talks. I am obviously in a completely different situation though: (1) I am employed on an MRC grant and therefore paid by the tax-payer, (2) some form of science outreach is part of this job, (3) I’m participating in this event during working hours (actually, it is in the evening, but I will end up missing ~1 day of work as a result), (4) this is undoubtedly a good experience for me (e.g., practicing communication skills, meeting other memory researchers etc.).

All this made me think taking a fee was somewhat amoral. I’m not paid huge amounts as an academic, but I’m certainly paid enough to live a comfortable life and I would have participated in this event regardless of the money. The fee will swell my wallet in the short-term but make very little difference in the long-term. So, my questions to you are:

  1. Should I simply give the money to charity?
  2. Is there a moral code for this type of thing that I simply am not aware of, or do people just tend to make up their own minds?
  3. Am I over-analysing this?
Your answers and advice would be very much appreciated.