At some point in the process, hopefully the Chair (or someone) would have given you some indication as to how much they are prepared to invest for your startup, salary, etc. It’s good to know what they’re thinking as you don’t want to lowball your first offer but you also don’t want to ask for squillions of dollars if they’re only thinking in terms of hundreds or thousands.
Take your time to put together a concise itemized list of demands that, at the very least, should include the items listed below. Run the list by a trusted mentor before you send it to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything and that you’re not asking for stupid things (they won’t give you the 100” flat screen tv and surround sound unit for your office, regardless of how well you phrase the request).
The Chair and the Dean (and whoever else might be involved) will then chat about your request, decide on what they will/won’t agree to and will come back with a counteroffer that may or may not be in writing. Again, take your time to think about their offer, talk it over with someone you trust who can guide you through and then either make a counteroffer of your own or accept the terms if you’re happy with all of them. If they are completely clueless and are offering far below anything that you consider to be reasonable for you to be able to do your work, reconsider whether this is a place that will support you as a new faculty member.
If you have another offer already in writing, don’t be afraid to use it as a bargaining tool. You can be as magnanimous as you like about your science but you also need to look after your best interests. After all, this isn’t a carebear’s fucking tea party.
Once everyone has settled on things, a formal letter of offer (ala contract) will be sent to you. Make sure you read it thoroughly, note if anything is incorrect (double check the decimal points and the zeros) and only sign it if you’re happy with everything. The most important thing is to get everything in writing. Don’t take the Chair’s or the Dean’s word for it that you’ll get a summer salary or that you won’t have to teach for the first two years. GET IT IN WRITING. Was that clear enough? No? I’ll say it again just to make sure. GET IT IN WRITING. Everything.
Ok, now to the nitty gritty stuff. These are the things that I had to negotiate and that were in my contract. They may differ between schools, fields and individuals so I’m sure that others will chip in with stuff I’ve missed.
Do you know the difference between hard money and soft money positions? [Edit: clearly I didn't write it very clearly so the delightful PP clarified this distinction for me:]
Hard-money versus soft-money only refers to whether the institution has an obligation to pay your salary regardless of whether you are successful at supporting your salary with grants. Some hard-money faculty are in Schools of Arts & Sciences where 9 months of their salary is paid by the university, ostensibly for their teaching. Other hard-money faculty are in medical schools, where they are paid a twelve-month salary, but where they may still be expected to support anywhere between 60% and 85% of their salary from their grants. However, if these hard-money medical school faculty fail to support the expected percentage of their salary, the institution is still obligated to pay their salary.Now how much do you think you’re worth? If your chromosomes are all of the X variety, which is clearly the more superior option, there’s a fair chance that you will underestimate how much a school is willing to pay you for your awesomeness. Not sure about the ballpark? Did the Chair give you an indication of the salary range when you were interviewing? If so, start at the top. If not, there are a few places you can look as the salary range for an assistant professor will vary between fields, institutions, location, etc; the AAUP website is a place to start but remember that the assistant professor category includes everyone from 1st year to about-to-be-tenured faculty. If the school is a public institution, the salaries will most likely be available either in hard copy in the library or online. Look at what the current assistant professors in the dept are making but, more importantly, look at what the most recently hired assistant prof is getting and what the associate profs earn. Why? It’s called salary compression. Schools will typically offer more money to prospective hires than existing assistant profs and tenured associate profs in order to get the best and the brightest new faculty. It will totally suck when you’re a 4th year assistant prof or tenured associate prof to know that new hires will earn more than you but that’s what happens.
Any future salary raises will be determined by your starting salary so you want that to be as high as possible. And if, after a couple of years, you decide to pursue a position elsewhere, they’ll usually want to know how much you’ve been earning so that they can lowball you.
Ask your postdoc mentor for advice. Ask any current faculty member for advice. Don’t shortchange yourself because you will only screw yourself over. You can always ask for a raise later on but it probably won’t happen. Above all else, when you’ve come to a mutual agreement about salary, make sure you GET IT IN WRITING.
2. Summer salary
If you’re negotiating for a 9 month hard money position and research is expected,
3. Teaching duties
Ask to postpone your teaching for at least a year or two or, at the very least, insist that you need a reduced teaching load for the first couple of years. If you’re expected to establish an independent research program, loading you up with a buttload of teaching from day one is counterproductive. Whatever you negotiate, GET IT IN WRITING, including the maximum number of credits you are expected to teach per semester and when that is to begin.
Another thing to consider is in which program you will be teaching. Where is your startup money coming from? I found out well into my first year that another program had contributed to my startup funds and they were demanding that I begin teaching for them asap. My response? It’s not in my contract. That seems to have averted the argument for the time being.
4. Salaries for lab peeps
If you’re a basic scientist, you should definitely ask for money to pay for technicians and/or postdocs in your lab. Look at the department and see how many labs currently employ full time people. If there are none, there’s a very good chance Dept Chair and Dean are going to chortle when they see your request for salaries for 10 full time personnel for 5 years. What is the grad program situation in the department? Maybe one or two postdocs in addition to stipends for a few grad students would be more appropriate.
Make sure you include benefits for the lab peeps in your list of demands. The school’s HR or grants and contracts office should have an online list somewhere of the percent you need to factor in for benefits. Also look on their website for a list of salary ranges for research assistants, technicians, postdocs, etc. If in doubt with the postdoc salaries, use the NRSA guidelines as this will often be higher than what a school recommends.
Whatever you agree to, make sure you GET IT IN WRITING. All of it. Including the benefits.
5. Lab and office space
Are you getting your own lab or will you be forced to share with someone else? What is the norm in the department? What is the research space like? Do all of the PIs share one big common lab? Do each have their own lab with doors that can be locked to keep everyone else out? How big are the labs? How much space do you need? Ask for as much as possible. Again, as the new shining star, they are looking to give you as much as possible in order to get you to sign on the dotted line but it’s also in the school’s best interest to ensure that you have the tools you need to rocket into the sciencey stratosphere.
Do you plan to purchase Big Fancy Machine that needs its own room? Ask for an extra room. Do you need cell culture hoods in your lab but none of the labs have them? Put it on your list of demands and ask that they be installed prior to your start date. These will be essential to your work and without them you won’t succeed. Are there vacuum and gas lines where you need them? They are always on the opposite side of the room when you go to use them. How much desk space is in the lab? If there is none, request a separate office for your tech and postdoc. If the lab peeps don’t have a non-bench space in which to do their non-benchy duties, then that will impact on their ability to make you look like a rock star.
Do all the faculty get their own office? They typically do but GET IT IN WRITING. You don’t want to find yourself sharing the grad students’ office or the closet where the adjuncts are
GET IT IN WRITING. All of it. If space has been identified, make sure the room number and square footage appears on your contract. Seem like a trivial issue? Sure it does now, but wait until you arrive only to find that a senior prof decided to take your allocated lab and generously left you the one with no natural light, no space and no existing infrastructure. This shit happens. Trust nobody. GET IT IN WRITING.
What will you absolutely need to do your work? Now what would you really, really like but don’t think you could possibly afford? Is there a core facility or common-use equipment that would suffice? Where is it? How much does it cost to use? How old is it? As a regular user, will you expected to contribute to ongoing service contract costs? List all of your needs in detail on your list of demands. Be specific about what you need, why you need it, how much it will cost and the benefit it will bring to the department. Hint at future collaborations with existing faculty to maximize your chances of success. If you purchase equipment from your startup funds, will you automatically have to make it available to everyone? I’ve heard of new PIs buying stuff only to have it monopolized by senior faculty. If it will fit in your lab, plan to put it in there and lock the door. Make it clear that YOU need this stuff for YOUR work.
Is there any equipment already in the lab? Will it stay? You’d be surprised at how quickly things disappear once you’ve signed on the dotted line. GET IT IN WRITING.
What about standard things like fridges, freezers, -80 freezers, water purifiers? Don’t assume that they will be in the lab. Ask for them and insist that their costs are included in your startup funds or that the contract specifically states that they will be provided at no additional cost. Why would I suggest this? Yes, that’s right ... someone tried to screw me over this very issue. But, AHAAA!! My contract very clearly stated that my lab was to include a fridge/freezer and a -80 freezer. Lo and behold, these items appeared a couple of days after I waved my contract in the air and stamped my foot. My advice? GET IT IN WRITING.
7. Start date
Make sure everyone is in agreement about the date you will start work and GET IT IN WRITING. If you’re from another country and are on a work visa, this is absolutely essential as you typically can’t change the dates once the paperwork has been started. If they want you to start the week before the Fall semester begins (this is typical for 9 month appointments) but you would prefer to delay your start for whatever reason, be very specific about when you want to start and why. If they want you and only you for this position, they’ll bend to your request.
8. Reviews, tenure clock, and timeline for use of startup funds
Make sure the schedule for your official reviews is on your contract IN WRITING. The semester and year in which you will be considered for tenure should also be outlined in addition to when you can expect to be granted tenure. If you’re not already aware, regular reviews are fairly standard - for example, annual reviews, a big review at the end of the 3rd year and application for tenure at the end of the 5th or 6th year. This can vary between institutions though and also whether you are already in a TT position at another school.
The one thing that will probably not appear on your contract is the explicit list of expectations for tenure. Good luck trying to find it. You’ll probably see a generic statement saying that tenure is contingent upon establishment of an independent research program. I’m not sure there’s much you can do about this in terms of negotiating the terms of the position because the line in the sand always seems to be moving and what’s considered necessary for tenure today might be different to what you are measured against 6 years down the track.
Also make sure that any deadlines for expiry of unused startup funds is IN WRITING. If you have 3 years to use up the money, make sure it’s spelled out clearly. If this is a school policy, ask what happens if you haven’t used all the cash by that time. They probably won’t put it in writing, but unofficially they’ll probably say it’s ok ... at least that’s the case for me.
9. Moving expenses
Unless the school is in the same town/city in which you currently reside, it is reasonable to expect that they will pay to move you, your family and your worldly possessions. I was given a choice between moving myself ala U-Haul and being reimbursed, or having a full service move in which I did nothing myself. Being the lazy person that I am and the fact that I didn't have anybody to help me unload at the other end, I chose the latter and didn’t pay a single cent. I was moving from one corner of the US to the diagonally opposite one and chose to drive my car myself so I was reimbursed for mileage but not hotels; this actually worked out well because the tiny car I had at the time ran on air, I usually stay at fleabag hotels anyway and I got to have a fantastic road trip. Also ask them to pay for a short trip to the area to organize accommodation prior to moving. Asking for ten round trip flights in first class will get you nowhere but it’s reasonable to request at least one round trip journey plus hotels, rental car and per diems in order to find somewhere to live. If you have a significant other, ask to have their trip covered too. The school will usually have a standard policy about moving so be sure to ask what it is and make sure you GET IT IN WRITING.
That’s about all I can think of right now and I’m sure I missed something important. Make sure you consult with someone who can mentor you through this process - someone who isn’t connected to the school that wants you (eg postdoc advisor, grad advisor, etc). You need to make sure that you don’t get screwed but that you also get what you need in order to succeed. Ask for more than you think they’re willing to give but have a line below which you absolutely cannot go. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground but remember to be reasonable. Asking for a salary that is higher than the Dean’s won’t get you anywhere.
If you have a competing offer from another school, USE IT. This is probably your biggest ace in negotiating. Just don’t overplay your hand. Again, remember to be firm and reasonable.
It’s tempting to take the first offer but remember that this is a long-term commitment for both you and the school. If they’re not even coming close to providing a decent salary and/or a reasonable startup package based on your particular needs, think long and hard about whether you will be able to succeed in such an environment and whether they are really interested in investing in you. In this rough economic climate, you may not have a choice but if you do be sure to make the most of it.
The take home messages for negotiating:
1. If you don’t ask for what you need/want, you won’t get it.
2. Get everything in writing. EVERYTHING.