Friday, May 27, 2011


Lately, I've been getting settled at SnowU. I'm up on the faculty page in one department (and hopefully soon on the other). My permanent office was just vacated by its previous occupant. Now all they need is a new coat of paint and my furniture and I'm good to go on that front. The other stuff is going decently well too. There's a fellow new faculty member in one department and we're trying to work out logistics between the two labs, costs for remodeling, and establishing a 3-5 year plan for our spaces. I'm not too worried about that as I think it will get worked out shortly.

That does, however, lead to the main topic of this post: negotiations. When I originally discussed the App Package (part 1 & part 2) and the rest of the interview process, I realized I never mentioned much about the negotiations. From what I've heard and from my (limited) experience, everything is negotiable. If it's something that is a deal breaker for you, definitely bring it up now because you would be able to do it later. However, most negotiations break down along a few lines, namely: Startup, Students, Lab, Office, Salary, Extras. First, I'll start with some general thoughts though.

General Info
Have specific targets in mind for everything. I need "X" amount of lab space, roughly "Y" students salaries for at least two years, and I'm a rough startup pile'o'cash of "Z". If you're needing specific equipment, come prepared with a list during your interview. Also, look up student salaries and tuition expenses to get a rough idea of the cost per student. I didn't really have to show the specifics during my interview but they definitely glanced at my rough startup outline and were impressed that I had what appeared to be a detailed list. It shows you've thought about what you'd need, estimated costs, and are prepared for the job.

I know the whole thing is called your "Startup Package", but this is really the money part. How much do you need to get the ball rolling on your operations? What's the minimum amount you need to grease the wheels. If you throw out a huge number, be prepared to back it up with hard figures (even quotes if necessary). The university you're interviewing at will have some ideas about your research field and they'll know roughly what to expect from you. If you low-ball it, they'll probably not take you seriously. If you high-ball it, just justify it and negotiate from there. Remember, most (decidedly most, but not all) don't want you to fail in your tenure track period. They want you to succeed because you're expensive for the university. But if you don't ask for it now, it's not going to matter at tenure review when you say "well I didn't have enough to start the ball rolling." Have a rough number in mind and then round up by 30%. Hey, it's negotiations.

In my case, startup money, students, and summer salary got lumped into one total pot that I can draw from so I don't have to stick to 3 students and X in money. I can change it to 2 students and X+dX in money if I want. If you can negotiate that, do so because it will make things more flexible for you.

I specifically separated students and startup money because tuition is expensive and 4 years X $$$$ tuition X some students = a lot of startup money. In practice, that will probably come in the form of tuition waivers and things like that. It doesn't matter how the university does it, just make sure you budget for students. Also find out the policy for tuition waivers (if any) or if you get TA support as per normal faculty.

Inquire about the average cost per student per year ( (tuition+salary+taxes)*overhead). This may be a key factor in deciding where to go if you've got multiple options. If you're planning on having a big group (say 10 people), the difference between $100k/student/year and $85k/student/year means $150k difference in your needed funding per year. If you're running a 10 student lab then you're in the $1M+ in research money turnover per year. To some profs, the difference between $850k and $1M in research money per year may not seem like much but as a new faculty member, that scares the shit out of me. That's a lot of money to have to bring in every year to keep things going.

Lab Space
Your lab space is directly coupled with the startup package and the size of your group. How many students are you planning on supporting right away? What equipment do you need and how much floor space does it take up? What are the requirements for your lab conditions (temp control, lighting, humidity, fume hoods, whatever)? Once again, a detailed list is better here. It shows you've thought about it and they you're not in over your head. I probably wasn't too specific on the size but I had very specific requirements on the lab conditions.

I've heard two different schools of thought when it comes to salary. One is: don't negotiate on it and save all your chips for more space/bigger startup/more students. Two is: only mainly negotiate on salary because the rest won't matter too much in the end.

I can definitely see the logic in (1). You're probably going to make decent money anyway and you'll probably do some consulting on the side. So your academic salary + summer salary + consulting should be enough to live on. Plus, instead of taking some extra money, you can get possibly an extra student or more equipment or whatever. That will help you get tenure (and more output, recognition, etc) and a higher earning potential.

However, (2) also makes sense. Here's the point reason. They're going to give a startup package so you will get some stuff. If you've asked appropriately in the beginning, even if they low-ball you, you're going to still get a nice package. So, this will be your only time to really ask for more money. And, to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure an extra "X" amount in startup or 1 extra year of a student salary is going to make or break tenure. If you're that close to the "go/no go line", then a lot more has gone off track than your initial negotiations.

In the end, make sure to ask for summer salary for at least your first two years. You're not going to have much research money coming in before then. After that, it's up to you.

I'm not sure how much it matters (although I'm not in FSP's office) so I just asked for the same sort of office space that all the other tenured/tenure tracks have. I did ask for a nice coat of paint and a carpet though. Basically, I would try to make sure you're on professor row where you are visible like the other profs. Young students don't want to forage around in the dank basement for your office. That's going to make it harder to attract good students.

I wasn't sure what extras you might negotiate on until this past week, which is ultimately what spurred this post. PARKING!!! Maybe this is just me but I don't think you should have to pay for parking where you work. And I don't think you should have to deal with BS about which car you take on a given day. This is the one thing I did wish I negotiate for and forgot to do so. I think all faculty (and probably all employees) at a university should get a hang tag free'o'charge from the university when they start. No fuss, no bullshit, and no dealing with parking which seems like an entity unto themselves with universities. And, if all the new faculty start asking for it and get it, they might change the policy at the university.

So that's all I have on the subject for now. Anything else I missed, please comment below. Feel free to add other tips and thoughts as well.

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