Monday, March 31, 2014

Academic startup: What is negotiable?

Okay, so you've been on your job interview (tips here for preparing for that), and now you have an offer. Yay! It's time to negotiate. Oh... 

If you're like me, you've been told over and over that we should negotiate, but not how to negotiate, or what to ask for

So, I asked twitter for advice on what to request in negotiations and startup packages. The #startupwishlist tweets were Storified here, and summarized below. In addition, the book, At the Helm: Leading Your Laboratory was recommended for new PIs, which also has a chapter on job applications.

NOTE: Keep in mind that many of these suggestions come from people at research-heavy institutions. Resources will differ from institution to institution, and especially between institutions with different missions. You will need to prioritize what you need to be successful, and balance that with the resources/facilities of the institution. That said, at least this list can give you some ideas of things that are negotiable.

Be informed when negotiating salary.
"Day in the Life: Lunch Money" by marya via Wikimedia Commons
  • Confirm whether 9-month or 12-month appointment.
  • Ask for summer salary for 2-3 years.
  • X years of guaranteed salary, and any salary that is covered by outside grants to convert to unrestricted funds.
  • When is the start date? Can you start early, or push it back?
  • 10% increase in salary, unless you have better information from inside the department (Can check the web for salaries for public institutions. University library reference might also have this info).

Make sure you have the equipment you need to succeed.
  • Confirm availability of any major equipment and space modifications you need.
  • Ask whether space renovations are included in or separate from startup budget.
  • Negotiate access to equipment that is shared, or in another person's labspace.
  • Negotiate ongoing service contracts for equipment, and non-expiration of these accounts.
  • Computational resources - desktops/laptops, node buy-in, annual HPC fees
  • Software
  • Sofa, table, chairs, coffee maker, fridge

Experiments are run by people.
  • Ask about University rates for overhead for students/postdocs/techs/staff.
  • $$ for 2 graduate students 
  • Access to administrative staff for grants
  • Does the department have a regular source of TAships for students?
  • $$ for postdocs
  • $$ for tech/lab manager

Time limits on spending startup?
  • Know if there are time limits for spending the money (also if $$ able to roll-over).
  • Request some startup to go to an unrestricted account (versus only to personnel or equipment).
  • Is the startup a lump sum or a set amount each year? 
  • What restrictions are there on Startup spending, and are there reporting requirements?
  • Flexibility for how to spend, versus what was requested.
  • Ask for 2-5 years to spend start-up

You need to travel to share your results and network.
Photo by Douglas Paul Perkins, via Wikimedia Commons
  • $$ for travel for you and lab members for first 2-3 years.
  • An annual professional allowance each year (for conference travel, journals, professional membership).

How many new courses will you need to develop in the first 5 years?


  • Protected time (preferably >1year), including teaching reduction and protection from service - get it in writing.
  • Ask for written out %FTE expected of teaching vs research.
  • Ask what %FTE is covered by department versus needing to get grants to fund yourself (mostly for medical schools).
  • Can time off teaching be held and used after the first year?
  • What courses you will teach over the first 4-5 years.

"Almost done" by Lisa Risager via Wikimedia Commons
  • Extension the deadline for you to make your decision.
  • A parking lot near your building
  • Housing/relocation allowance (sometimes you can request a month's extra salary if moving expenses aren't explicitly covered).
  • Slot in the University affiliated daycare/preschool
  • A semester of teaching/service relief for parental leave/dependent care

In summary:

What is negotiable? Everything.


Mark P said...

While I agree that a wide variety of issues are negotiable, I'd add two cautions to that based on my own long ago experience.

I had three finalists on my list and second visited all three of them. I then put together a detailed list of questions/issues/demands (note that how one views these differs depending on which side of the desk you're sitting), and presented the list to the three chairs. At the place I ultimately went, which had the lowest start-up offer, I got an interesting response from the chair, which has resonated more and more as I have "grown up". He basically told me I was worrying about the wrong things. Most of the issues I raised were, in his mind, details. He suggested that I instead think hard about where I thought I'd be able to be happy and successful. I was initially taken aback, but over the short-term and even more over the long term, I began to see his point. I now see, as the years pass, how unimportant the seemingly large differences in start up package and many other issues seem, and how much more important having good colleagues, a supportive department and a University with a collaborative and science friendly environment have become. Take the difference in start up packages and divide it by 30 years, the length of time you'll be a faculty member, and then think about the priceless value of the intangibles.

My second caution is to remember that your negotiations are something your colleagues will remember, as they are in many ways their first experience of you as a colleague. While you do not want to be a door-mat, do you want to be a prima-donna? Sending the message that "its all about me" may not be the way to put your best foot forward.

My two cents

Mark Peifer

mathbionerd said...

Mark, I couldn't agree more with both of your comments. Do you mind if I add them (edited for space) to the main post?

Mark P said...

sure--hope your own search is going well as well as that of your lab mate

Anonymous said...

In response to Mark's comment - if a smaller startup package means fewer supported postdocs and students that can have a huge impact on how many papers you publish early in your career and therefore how many grants you get and therefore whether you are successful. It's not about which startup is better, it's about will this offer make me successful (as you say). Also - this idea that you should negotiate less because other people think you're a prima donna is silly. For the most part your future colleagues will not know what you ask for and most will be on your side unless you ask for the moon.