When I started my current job, most of those who dropped by my office to say “Greetings,” first stopped short with a question: How did you get that monitor? (I have a big monitor. They no longer make them that big. I think it’s really helped me work more efficiently.)
I answered, “I asked for it.” It really was that easy. I gave up my printer for a big monitor. No biggie, I just brought my own printer.
When you start a new faculty position, you have to use the opportunity wisely. You’re over the moon that you actually landed the job, but don’t act too hastily. When you get the phone call, say that you look forward to discussing the offer very soon, don’t say yes. Once you sign on the line (it’s probably not dotted), you’ve lost all of your leverage for anything you want in the future.
Some schools leave things more open to negotiation than others. They’ll tell you straight out if something is fixed and can’t be changed. Often, things are flexible. You need to enter the conversation with the fact of negotiation. See what you’re getting as a starting point for discussion.
Salary is really, really important, because all of your future raises will be based on your starting salary. If you’re at a public institution, then salaries are probably public record. If you can’t find it online, then talk to a librarian at the university. These data matter.
You need to know what kind of ballpark startup you can expect. You should get this from the search committee rather than the Dean. You should find out what recent hires have got, and you should get at least that (depending on your specialty, maybe a lot more). Some schools will have a low five-digit offer and on the higher end some will have low six digit offer – and very wealthy campuses could shave something more. (This range sounds insanely low to faculty at R1 universities. Yup, I agree. Some places actually have startup that comes in four digits.) Sometimes people don’t like to talk with specific numbers. This isn’t the time to be shy. You don’t want to lowball your startup, and you also don’t want to get laughed out of the room for asking for an order of magnitude too high. Hopefully during your interview process you’ve built up enough rapport with your search committee, and your potential new chair should ideally be some help (if not your partner) on this as you go through the Dean.
What are the other things that you should or shouldn’t negotiate for? Here’s a quick review of the biggies, other than salary. Keep in mind that there is no grand wisdom in here, just a set of observations that plenty of others have made.
-Reassigned time from teaching. If it’s a teaching school, they hired you to teach. However, it will take a while for you to get on your feet and start up your lab. The longer you can prolong the reassigned time for you to focus on getting started and submitting grants, the better off you are. You don’t want to be a prima donna and ask for much much more than what others have gotten in the past, of course. You’ll note that I’m using “reassigned time” instead of release time. This is an important distinction in my book. “Release time” sounds like you’re getting out of a responsibility. “Reassigned” correctly indicates that you’re working just as hard on a different kind of assignment. Another thing that you should establish up front is under what circumstances, if any, funds are used for reassigned time in the future. If you bring in grants, can you negotiate for reassigned time even if it isn’t in the budget? Or, if you have to buy it with a grant, what is the rate? Especially at private institutions, the rate at which individual PIs are charged for reassigned time can be bartered. I’ve seen some people get outrageously great deals, only because they asked for them.
-Equipment and supplies. If your research requires a special piece of equipment that’s lacking, like a certain kind of mass spec, microscope, or whatnot, then this is your chance for the school to buy it for you. Keep in mind, though, that having equipment could be a curse rather than a boon. I have to admit that I can’t think of a fancy machine that would let me to things that I’m not already doing. You don’t want to admit this too readily, though, if that’s the main form of your startup. Often, once you get startup, you can spend it how you want. You can ask for cash for a big piece of equipment, but if you get it on the cheap or your needs change, you might be able to spend it in another way.
-Moving expenses. Sure, this is nice. But if you can convince them to shave money off of moving expenses to increase your salary, or reassigned time or something else, that is probably of more use to you.
-Space. If you want a better office or lab, now is the only time it’s going to happen, until someone retires or leaves. Nobody will get kicked out for you (usually), but if there is a variety of possible space then you should make your needs known.
-Staff. Will they guarantee that you have funds to hire a research assistant or tech? Small schools might be able to get you a paid part-time undergrad to work in your lab.
-Travel. To you, money for staff, travel, equipment and supplies all looks the same. But to the resource managers at the university who have to cobble together the funds for you, they aren’t. They need to get your startup from different pools of money with different rules. If you want to get money to travel to conferences, that might need to be specified up front. It also might not be possible, or might allow you to get a larger total amount.
-Duration of startup. Have you seen the Richard Pryor movie Brewster’s Millions? (This shows I am not young.) Pryor’s character has to spend a ton of money – all of it – in a short period of time. Most people who get startup are given a deadline to spend all of their money, and it typically arrives too soon. You’re so busy getting settled into your classes your first year, you can’t set up your lab on time. It’s likely that they’ll be pleased if you want your startup to be distributed over multiple years. That’s flexibility that you’ll appreciate. (I didn’t get the bulk of my startup until after I was tenured, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
There are a lot more details, and nuances about what kind of resources are better than others, but most of this depends on the specific circumstances of your particular needs and those of your institution.
Before your start your negotiation, there is a classic book about negotiation that I strongly recommend reading: Getting to Yes. This book will help you take away the adversarial approach to arguing over resources and instead help you find common ground. It should never be an argument, it should be a collaboration. Read this book before you get an offer.