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  • What Should I Consider Before I consult on the Side?
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What Should I Consider Before I consult on the Side?

Reader Question: Because my basic research bears on their product development, a corporate lab has asked me to accept roughly four hours per week as a “consultation” for 10 weeks. I could make time in my schedule for this, but I have no idea what to charge them. What is a typical hourly “consultation fee” for a pretty good PI — although I’m not a department chair or Nobel Prize winner?

Can I keep the money, or do I have to give it to my department or the university? One last point: they are located about one hour’s drive from my campus. Do I charge for the two-hour round-trip drive at my per-hour rate, or do consulting scientists “throw in” travel at no additional charge?

Expert Comments: PIs often cross over between teaching and consulting, and they may charge on a per-project basis.

One such researcher estimates that the resulting fee generally falls between $100 and $200 per hour, with some compensation for travel time above and beyond expenses. Another with significant consulting experience explains that you should expect $150-$300 per hour.

In addition, you generally should charge travel time at half the rate — $75-$150 per hour — plus all travel- related expenses, such as airfare, mileage and hotels.

If you need to be away for several days as part of your consulting duties, most charge the base rate ($150-$300 per hour) for a standard, eight-hour day. That is, you shouldn’t bill all the time you are away as travel time.

Examples: If you have a four-hour round-trip drive for a three-hour meeting, he would charge four hours at half rate and three hours at the full rate. If you have a three- day trip, you would charge the half rate for the direct travel time and each individual day away at the full rate for eight hours.

As far as, “Can you keep the money?” That depends on the specifics of your institutional policies. If you work outside your normal business hours and not using university resources or intellectual property, then you probably will be able to keep your fees. But check with your institution — not only for policies, but also to fulfill disclosure requirements as well as to determine if there are any significant conflicts of interest.

Note: To obtain possibly diverse views, the questions below were presented to several senior PIs/consultants. The comments that follow are an edited synthesis of their opinions.

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