Fly Away

Faculty readers: How often do you travel for work? Include all trips (conferences, seminars, review panels, PI meetings, various advisory board meetings…)


I seem to travel somewhere for work about once a month, and I feel it’s too much. I am really sick of it and will have to impose stricter limits on what I accept in the future.
Lenny seems not to mind the flying, though.



  1. For me it varies– last year on leave it was about once a week. This year I’ve only traveled once (by choice) but I have 3 invited things before the summer is out. It should be four, but I’m letting a coauthor do the European conference by herself.

  2. I try to make a very strict rule that I will only travel once a month. This does not mean an average of once per month, but rather that if I’m already scheduled to go somewhere in May, then I say no to anything else happening in May. But this means that if some small local UG institution has gotten to me first, I will say no to the big fancy R1 that month.

    In practice, this has me traveling 13 or 14 times per year because there are always a couple of things that are too important to say no to. The trick is to demand that those things really be special. When dealing with special cases, I also try to differentiate between a one-day overnight trip to a nearby university with a one-hour flight each way and a three-day European trip that is going to cost me an additional two days of travel and god knows how many days of jet lag.

    The other trick is to admit to yourself that you travel too much and play the points game to get status on some airline. (And then to argue with people making travel arrangements that you need to travel on that airline.) It’s a big difference if you get upgraded sometimes, know that you’ll get your bag on the plane, get to sit in the slightly larger seats, or get to go to the lounge on international trips. It doesn’t make it pleasant, but it definitely makes it less worse. For me, it was hard to admit that I was making that many trips and I deserved to make the trips easier.

  3. With declining research budgets, pressure to do more with less, declining levels of support for universities, academia, and faculty, as well as changes in technology, I’m seeing travel being reduced. I’m travelling “one fewer group in your poll” last year and likely this year as a result of this. As an example, a research-consortium meeting I used to go to every year is now being done as two-or-three-day long, all-day videoconference. I think this must be a trend because now my campus’s videoconferencing facilities are being strained and overbooked. All-day-long videoconferences aren’t fun, but as you and others have pointed out, travel has become more grueling as well.

  4. Well, I responded 9-12 times/year to the poll, but it has varied A LOT. As a postdoc, it was >1x/month, then in my first few years on the tenure track it was ~1x/month, maybe a little less, and since my last trip 7 months pregnant with my son a year and a half ago I’ve only done airplane-distance travel three times (twice with baby, once without). Still doing a fair amount of regional traveling (NY and Boston are both driving distance), but with breastfeeding it’s been really, really hard to be away overnight. I know some women manage long trips, but between my kid not taking a bottle ever (he eventually took a sippy cup at 6 months) and being prone to clogged ducts (so pumping for a work day is fine but it gets really dicey for more than one overnight) it’s just difficult to travel. I’d be interested to know the breakdown of this poll for women vs. men with vs. without small kids. I know your kids are bigger now, but I’d also be interested to know if your travel dropped off a cliff when they were little or if you kept it up somehow.

  5. Also, may I just say that remote participation in panels is both the best and the worst thing ever? Means I don’t have to get on a plane (yay!) but I don’t have a valid excuse to get out of service to my community even with a baby at home (I mean, I know that I can say no — and I have — but I just have to think harder and feel more guilty about it).

  6. Travel disenchants me, but I am averaging two trips/conferences/meetings a month for at least the next six months because it is That Time for me on the tenure track. It messes with my productivity and sleep and personal life. I don’t even have kids and can barely handle it. But I’m a research parasite and find the repeated encounters with experimentalists critical for maintaining and establishing relationships.

    I will be very sad if I have to keep traveling this much for the rest of my life.

    One thing I wonder about is whether it is worth not going back and forth so much. Next fall, I have two multi-day trips to Europe a few weeks apart, and one of my senior colleagues insists it’d be better for me just to borrow a desk somewhere nearby and have a mini-sabbatical. I really have no idea what that would do to productivity in my lab.

  7. Can I add that this is why I am completely uninterested in personal travel and just cannot grok the way personal finance bloggers go on and on about it as if it is some sort of nirvana?

  8. Haha, nicoleandmaggie, I wonder the same thing! I don’t care if I can get RT flights from my hometown to Moorea on only 50k miles if it takes three separate coach flights and 28 hours each way. On the other hand, after 12 hours of work, I have increasingly lurid fantasies of being obscenely rich and flying direct on 5000-count bedsheets everywhere. I actually looked into the cost of flight school once I realized how short a direct flight to [expensive mountain location] really is.

  9. @lyra211 – how did you travel >1x/month as a postdoc? – for job interviews?

    It seems to me travel for postdocs ranges drastically. I planned on attending 3 conferences this year, and then my boss gave a stern “no” to attending the large, national conference in my field. She claimed that staying in the lab and publishing would be more helpful than networking at a conference. Something I completely disagree with. I even have my own funding for travel, so it wouldn’t hit her pocketbook, but I’m stuck, as I would have to use vacation days to go to conferences to present my postdoctoral work. In contrast, my other post doc colleague is going to 3 conferences in the month of June alone, and will have gone to 7 conferences by the end of the year.

    I fear my advisor’s strict viewpoint on student/postdoc conference travel will have me lose out on networking/forming any small amount of name recognition I can muster… Should I be concerned?

    I guess as a small positive, this made me jump into the academic twitter game – if people can’t see my name in conference proceedings, some people will at least see it on their feeds?

  10. > I fear my advisor’s strict viewpoint on student/postdoc conference travel will have me lose out on networking/forming any small amount of name recognition I can muster… Should I be concerned?

    It sounds like you’re still going to some conferences, though, right?

    In general, I would agree with your advisor. Papers are so, so much more important than having drinks with the right people. I don’t really care how charming and clever people are in person if they don’t have the scientific accomplishments to match. I go out of my way to meet people (including potential postdoc recruits) who have good papers. I will email them and try to invite them out or see if we can meet up when I’m in their city. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if most of the people I’ve been most excited to hire I’d really known for a while through conferences.

  11. I’m not sure. I have some colleagues who basically completely forbid their grad students/postdocs from going to conferences, saying that it’s time wasted that could be spent in the lab and/or, especially, writing. I had a PhD student once whose Master’s advisor was that way- I felt sorry for her. I think that’s taking it too far. There are times that that networking, and being out there and visible, and honing one’s presentation skills, is valued. Come to think of it there are some very big names in my field, known from papers, who people talk about in hushed tones, shaking their heads, whispering “so-and-so NEVER goes to conferences…”- I guess it’s okay for them.

  12. What nicoleandmaggie said…

    As a PhD and postdoc I went to a conference 1 or at most 2 times a year. As a rule, if you had a poster to present, it would be okay to go to an international conference once per year. I try to keep up the same rule now that I have my own lab, encouraging my PhD students and postdocs to do the same.
    More than about the networking, I think conferences are also important to keep up good spirits: It’s not only about meeting the hotshots, but also about talking to peers and coming back refreshed and with renewed energy to tackle those pesky experiments in the lab.
    I also find it hard to see how one week away from the lab would put a major break on writing/publishing (in fact, I started writing my very first paper as a PhD student while stuck in a hotel room at a conference smack in the middle of nowhere).

    Right now, 3-4 years into having my own lab, I travel abroad for conferences maybe 2 times max per year, if I can help it. Then there are smaller 1-2 day trips for seminars/small meetings/PhD defences etc. maybe another 3-4 times per year. I think once per 2 months is doable. If I every reach 1 trip per month, I would be very unhappy.

  13. I’m a postdoc, so I didn’t answer the poll, but for me it also widely varies from year-to-year. Typically I aim for 2 conferences per year: one international and one domestic (which is a little low compared to super stars I know in the field, but I do find they cut down in my productivity) assuming I find conferences that are applicable (there is always one). But during job application years I double or triple that number. So far I’ve lucked out and I’ve been able to string together conferences/talks for some savings (multiple conferences back-to-back that are relatively near one another) and this year I had a bit of a windfall in super flexible grant funds that I’ll be using for travel (because what else am I going to use it for when I don’t have costly experiments, it’s not enough to pay for a summer student, and I don’t have childcare needs?).

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