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.

April: I'll be around

It turns out that April is going to be a big travel month for me. If you'll be at any of these events, I'd be very happy to meet up!


Wednesday April 2, 2014 - CEHG Seminar at Stanford

I will be traveling to the South Bay, and will be available to meet with people 10am-3pm. See the announcement and abstract here.

Seminar on Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genetics
Stanford University
1:00pm Lunch; 1:15 Seminar
Clark Center S360

April 6-12, 2014 - tweeting for @realscientists

I will be tweeting for @realscientists!! I'm preparing a series of topics to cover, focusing on sex chromosome and sex-biased evolution.

If you have specific questions about my research, sex chromosomes, sex-determination, or the related, leave them below, and I'll address them during this week.


April 7-11, 2014 - Conference on World Affairs panelist

I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in the 66th Annual Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder. Here's my profile for the conference

I'll be serving as a panelist on seven different panels
1716 I F-ing Love Theoretical Research!
    3:00-4:20 on Monday April 7, 2014
    Visual Arts Complex 1B20

1864 Gentrification, Homelessness and the American City
    4:30-5:50 on Monday April 7, 2014
    UMC East Ballroom

2464 Young Scientists Making Their Mark
    12:30-1:50 on Tuesday April 8, 2014
    UMC West Ballroom

3316 Science Ain’t What It Used to Be
    11:00-12:20 on Wednesday April 9, 2014
    UMC West Ballroom

3712 56 Different Points on the Gender Spectrum
    3:00-4:20 on Wednesday April 9, 2014
    UMC Center Ballroom

4611 Controversies Inside Science
    2:00-3:20 on Thursday April 10, 2014
    UMC 235

5262 Into the Future of Science and Technology
    10:30-11:50 on Friday April 11, 2014
    UMC 235

April 17-18, 2014 - RCN Network for Integrating Bioinformatics into Life Sciences Education

As a computational biologist I am a huge advocate for increasing students' understanding of mathematics and computational approaches. So, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Research Coordination Network (RCN), Network for Integrating Bioinformatics into Life Sciences Education (NIBLSE). As it happens, the RCN NIBLSE is organizing a conference in Omaha, Nebraska this April, so I'll be making a whirlwind trip there this month as well. I'll be sure to share what I learn here. 

Other than this, I'll be in Berkeley, getting work done. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Template rejection letters are better than no letter at all.

It is the academic job season, and as offers are made, we receive rejection letters, sometimes. But more often than not, applicants don't hear anything. For someone whose life is built on data and observations I absolutely prefer to receive a rejection letter. At least then I know where I stand. But, today I laughed out loud a the rejection letter I received. I've changed the names of the people and University to italics, but nothing else, including the salutation: 
Dear Dr. $[LastName], 
Thank you for your application for the faculty position in the UniversityDepartment of Biology. 
While we were impressed with your background and research goals, uponcareful review of your application materials we have identified othercandidates who are a better match for our faculty development plans inthe department. This is the result of our need to complement existingfaculty research programs. 
Thank you again for your interest in the University Department of Biology. Wewish you the best of luck in your career endeavors. 
Dr. Forgot to Check the Template and the entire search committee
I know that these are form letters, and I am definitely guilty of making these kinds of silly spelling/grammar/typing errors, but sometimes it is nice to see that I'm not the only one who could use an extra cup of coffee some mornings. :)

And, at least they sent a letter. Knowledge is power, even if it is disappointing knowledge. 


Update: An apology was emailed out this afternoon. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tips for job interviews

I have completed my academic job interviews for this season. I am cautiously optimistic. In the meantime, while it is fresh in my mind, I'd like to write out some of my suggestions. For a more light-hearted and graphical overview of the interview process, check out Hope Jahren's, "How to get a faculty job" comic **(see my addendum below). Also, see this list from Matt Might that focuses on the whole academic application process.

Before the interview
  • Prepare presentations. You will need to prepare at least one presentation that features your past and current research. You may also need to prepare a chalk talk, or a teaching talk. 
  • Practice. Practice your research presentation, and your chalk talk and/or teaching talk, to several different audiences if you can. Practicing saying things out loud is useful, even if it is just to an empty room. 
  • Prepare questions. The campus interview is a two-way street, for the department to get to know you, and for you to get to know the department. Think about what is important for you to know before going somewhere (e.g., research facilities, teaching responsibilities, support for students, tenure expectations, etc. For more ideas see this list from Dartmouth.). 
  • Look up scientific backgrounds of each of the people you will be meeting with. Save either as an electronic document or print out for reading on the plane. I've heard some people suggest reading a paper from each person you are going to meet with, but I think this is not reasonable. Some departments are vast, and you will not have the scientific expertise to internalize 16 new disciplines. That said, you should have a general sense of what each person does, how you might potentially collaborate, and prepare one or two notes or questions about their research, to facilitate conversation. 
  • Consider questions they might ask you, especially the ones they aren't supposed to ask, but might anyway: see here for questions you should never be asked on a job interview.
Traveling - Before
  • Pack light, so you don't need to check luggage, and risk having your bag not arrive when you do. Make sure you still have professional clothes and layers. Layers are important.
  • Keep all important items in your carry-on (especially **laptop, backup presentation, adaptors, and power chargers**).
  • Pack two snacks. Likely your flights will be delayed or the layover too short, and it will be nice to feel like you don't really need to pay $7 for that bag of almond M&Ms.
  • Bring headphones and non-electronic reading material. The flights can get long.
  • Keep dental floss in your bag, and make a bathroom check after lunch, for your peace of mind.
  • Bring a water bottle or a reusable coffee mug (works for hot or cold) to stay hydrated.
  • Choose mints over gum. Less distracting. Cough drops are also nice to have, just in case.
  • Bring pens and paper so you can take any important notes for following up.
  • Don't over-caffinate. Be careful not to drink too much coffee/tea, it seems to flow non-stop.
  • Decompress for 30 minutes (use the gym, take a bath, listen to music, watch youTube).
  • Don't obsess. If you have a second talk (chalk talk or teaching presentation), go over it one more time, update with potential collaborations after what you've learned on your first day, but then let it go.
  • Get some rest. The first day is so exciting with all the new people and places. You need to be just as enthusiastic the second day.
Traveling - After
  • Thank you notes can be started on the plane ride home, when the visit is fresh in your mind. Just save in a text file and then you can proof and send them out when you return.
  • Stretch. The combo of nerves during the interview and the not-so-comfy airline seats can hurt your neck/back, so take care of yourself.
After the Interview
  • Enjoy your time at home!
  • Catch up on emails, lab work, writing, family and friends.
  • Do not obsess. You've done all you can do. Now, patience, and distraction, are your friends.
  • Good luck!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
**My addendum to Hope's comic:

#5: Just ask for a bathroom break when you need it.
#15: I found that ordering an alcoholic drink was an easy way to avoid the "might she be pregnant?" unasked, but burning, question.  
#18: Even if you feel sure that you're a great fit, you still might not get the job. And that really stinks.

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 31st Deadline: Summer Institute for Native Americans in Genomics Workshop


The Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has partnered with the Department of Anthropology and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin to host the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) Workshop for 2014. The workshop will take place from June 1-7, 2014 on the University of Texas campus in Austin, the week immediately after the Native American Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) meetings take place, also in Austin, Texas.
The goals of the workshop are to facilitate discussions of how genomics research is conducted and to create a support network for Native American students in the sciences. Additional instruction in fundamental concepts and methods in genomics and bioinformatics, including both theoretical aspects and practical laboratory- and computer-based training, will take place.
By combining ethical, legal, and social discussions surrounding historical Native American encounters with science and hands-on training in the latest genomics techniques and analytical programs, the workshop will help prepare participants for future leadership positions in science research and careers.
“The SING workshop fosters a new generation of intellectual leaders with the tools to address the expanding frontiers of genomic science and interactions with society,” says Ripan Malhi, Director of the SING program.
The SING workshop was first held at the IGB in 2011, with 12 attendees and several faculty advisors participating from universities across North America. The upcoming workshop will be the third workshop and will include leading Native American scholars who will be attending the NAISA conference in Austin the week before.
“SING appeals to Native American students and community members who often become interested in genomic research because they see that it presents both risks and opportunities for their tribal communities. SING offers a multi-disciplinary curriculum taught by diverse faculty who recognize that ‘science’ and ‘society’ are not separate, but they continuously shape one another,” says Kim TallBear, SING faculty and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) Workshop will take place from June 1-7, 2014, at the University of Texas at Austin. The workshop is open to tribal college students, community college students, university undergraduate students and graduate students, and individuals from Native American communities who would like to continue their education in the sciences. Full details and the online application can be found at
About the Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) program at the University of Texas:
The Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) program at the University of Texas at Austin has a global, comparative focus with a particular strength in the Americas.  NAIS fosters and supports teaching and intellectual engagements around the languages, cultures, knowledges, histories, and current political struggles of indigenous peoples. The program is particularly concerned with scholarship and intellectual exchange that contributes to the economic, social, and political advancement of indigenous peoples.  NAIS also contributes to efforts to build a diverse campus by actively working on recruitment of indigenous students and faculty.
For more information, contact the following co-organizers of SING:
Dr. Ripan Malhi (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Dr. Deborah Bolnick (University of Texas at Austin)
Dr. Kim TallBear (University of Texas at Austin)