What’s the hurry with the job offer?


Last week, I had a conversation with someone who was mildly cheesed off about how some universities make tenure-track job offers that expire within a couple weeks. If you don’t really understand how and why this goes down, please let me explain.

But if you don’t want the explanation, I’ll spare you the cognitive load: If you don’t want to be in a position where you might have to accept or decline a job offer in a window of a couple weeks, just save everybody the trouble and don’t apply for tenure-track positions at universities that are not highly ranked.

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Negotiate authorship before collecting data


Authorship disputes are not uncommon. Even when there are no actual disputes over who did what on a project, there may be lots of authorship resentments. That’s because a lot of folks — by no mere coincidence, junior scientists more often — end up not getting as much credit as they think they deserve when a paper comes out. Continue reading

Negotiating for a faculty position: An anecdote, and what to do


This post is about a revoked job offer at a teaching institution that was in the news, and is also about how to negotiate for a job. I’ve written about negotiation priorities before, but this missive is about how to discuss those priorities with your negotiating partner.

Part A: That rescinded offer in the news

Last week, a story of outrage made the rounds. The capsule version is this: A philosopher is offered a job at a small teaching school. She tries to negotiate for the job. She then gets immediately punished for negotiating, by having the offer rescinded.

This story first broke on a philosophy blog, then into Inside Higher Ed, and some more mainstream media, if that’s what Jezebel is. There are a variety of other posts on the topic including this, and another by Cedar Reiner.

Some have expressed massive shock and appall. However, after reading the correspondence that caused the Dean to rescind the job offer, I’m not surprised at all. After initial conversations, the candidate wrote to the Dean:

As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier.

1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.

2) An official semester of maternity leave.

3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.

4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.

5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.

I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.

Here is what the Dean thought, in her words:

Thank you for your email. The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.

Thank you very much for your interest in Nazareth College. We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.

There has been a suggestion of a gendered aspect. That viewpoint is expressed well here, among other places. (There doesn’t seem to be a pay equity problem on this campus, by the way.) I wholly get the fact that aggressive negotiation has been seen as a positive trait for men and a negative trait for women. I think it is possible that gender played a role, but in my view, the explanation offered by the Dean is the most parsimonious one. (Now, my opinion will be dismissed by some because of my privilege as a tenured white dude. Oh well.) Given the information that we’ve been provided, and interpreted in light of my experiences at a variety of teaching campuses, I find the “fit” explanation credible, even if it’s not what I would have done.

A job offer is a job offer, and once an offer is made the employer should stand behind the offer. Then again, if some highly extraordinary events unfold before an agreement is reached, the institution can rescind the job offer. In this circumstance, is the candidate’s email highly extraordinary?

Did this start at “negotiation” communicate so many horrible things about the candidate that the institution should have pulled its offer? The Dean’s answer to that question was, obviously, “Yes.”

I would have answered “no.” Many others have done the yeoman’s blog work of explaining exactly how and and why that was the wrong answer to the question. I’m more interested in attempting to crawl inside the minds of the Dean and the Department that withdrew the offer. What were they thinking?

The blog that first broke this story called these items “fairly standard ‘deal-sweeteners.’” I disagree. If I try to place myself in the shoes of the Dean and the Department, then this is how I think I might have read that request:

I am not sure if I really want this position. If you are willing to stretch your budget more than you have for any other job candidate in the history of the college, then I might decide to take the job, because accepting it is not an easy decision.

1) I realize that your initial salary offer was about what Assistant Professors make at your institution, but I want to earn 20% more, as much as your Associate Professors, because that’s what new faculty starting at research universities get.

2) I’d know that 6 months of parental leave is unofficial policy and standard practice, but I want it in writing.

3) I’d like you to hire adjuncts for an extra sabbatical before I come up for tenure. By then I’m sure I’ll need a break from teaching, even though everybody else waits until after tenure to take a sabbatical.

4) Before I take this special extra sabbatical, I want an easier teaching schedule than everybody else in my department.

5) I want to stay in my postdoc for an extra year, because I’d rather do more research somewhere else than teach for you. I realize that you advertised the position to fill teaching needs, but you can hire an adjunct.

While some of these requests are the kind that I’d expect to be fulfilled by a research institution, I’m hoping that you are able to treat me like a professor from a research institution. Now that you’ve offered me this teaching job, I want my teaching obligations to be as minimal as possible. Let me know what you think.

And the Dean did exactly that: she let her know what she thought. I’m not really joking: that’s really how I think it could be seen, inside the context of a teaching- and student-centered institution.

Here is a more unvarnished version of what I imagine the Dean was thinking:

Holy moly! Who do you think we are? Don’t you realize that we want to hire you to teach? I didn’t pull the salary out of thin air, and it was aligned with what other new Assistant Professors earn here. And if you want to teach here, why the heck do you want to stay in your postdoc which presumably pays less money? If you wanted to stay in your for 18 months earning a postdoc salary, instead of coming to teach for us at a faculty-level salary, then why would you even want this job at all? Also, didn’t you realize that we advertised for the position to start this year because we need someone to teach classes in September? If you have such crazy expectations now, then I can only imagine what a pain in the butt you might be for us after you get tenure. I think it’s best if we dodge this bullet and you can try to not teach at a different university. We’re looking for someone who’s excited about teaching our students, and not as excited about finding ways to avoid interacting with them.

The fact remains that the candidate is actually seeking a teaching-centered position. However, she definitely was requesting things that an informed candidate would only ask from a research institution. I don’t think that she necessarily erred in making oversized requests, but her oversized requests were for the wrong things. They are focused on research, and not on teaching. While it might be possible that all of those requests were designed to improve the quality of instruction and the opportunities to mentor students, it clearly didn’t read that way to the Dean. We know it didn’t read that way, because the Dean clearly wrote that she thought the candidate was focused too heavily away from teaching and students. I’m not sure if that’s true, but based on the email, that perspective makes a heckvualotta sense to me.

I’d would be more inclined to chalk the unwise requests to some very poor advice about how to negotiate. I’d would have given the candidate a call and try to figure out her reasons, and if the answers were student-centered, then I’d continue the negotiation. But I can see how a reasonable Dean, Department, and Vice President of Academic Affairs could read that email and decide that the candidate was just too risky.

New tenure-track faculty hires often evolve into permanent commitments. You need to make the most of your pick. Hiring a dud is a huge loss, and it pays to be risk averse. If someone reveals that they might be a dud during the hiring process, the wise course of action is to pick someone who shows a lower probability of being a dud. However, once an offer is made, the interview is over.

But according to Nazareth College, this candidate showed her hand as a total dud, and a massive misfit for institutional priorities. Though I wouldn’t have done it, I have a hard time faulting them for pulling the offer. If they proceeded any further, they would have taken the chance that they’d wind up with an enthusiastic researcher who would have been avoiding students at every opportunity. Someone who might want to bail as soon as starting. Or maybe someone who got a better job while on the postdoc and not show up the next year. The department only has four tenure-track faculty, and would probably like to see as many courses taught by tenure-line faculty as possible.

Having worked in a few small ponds like Nazareth, I don’t see the outrageousness of these events. We really have no idea, though, because there is a lot of missing context. But we know that the Dean ran this set of pie-in-the-sky requests by the Department and her boss. They talked about it and made sure that they weren’t going to get into (legal) hot water and also made sure that they actually wanted to dump this candidate. It’s a good bet that the Department got this email and said, “Pull up, pull up! Abort!” They may have thought, “If we actually are lucky enough to fill another tenure-track line, we don’t want to waste it on someone who only wants to teach three preps before taking a pre-tenure sabbatical while we cover their courses.” I don’t know what they were thinking, of course, but this seems possible.

Karen Kelsky pointed out that offers are rescinded more often at “less prestigious institutions.” She’s definitely on to something. Less prestigious institutions have more weighty teaching loads and fewer resources for research (regardless of the cost of tuition). These are the kinds of institutions that are most likely to find faculty job candidates who are wholly unprepared for the realities of life on the job.

When an offer gets pulled, I imagine it’s because the institution sees that they’ve got a pezzonovante on their hands and they get out while they still can.

At teaching institutions, nobody wants a faculty member who shies away from the primary job responsibility: teaching.

In a research institution, how would the Dean and the Department feel if a job candidate asked the Dean for reduced research productivity expectations and a higher teaching load for the first few years? Wouldn’t that freak the Department out and show that they didn’t get a person passionate for research? Wouldn’t the Dean rethink that job offer? Why should it be any different for someone wanting to duck teaching at a teaching institution?

I don’t know what happened on the job interview, but that email from the candidate to the Dean is a huge red flag word embroidered with script that reads: “I don’t want to teach” and “I expect you to give me resources just like a research university would.” Of course everybody benefits when new faculty members get reassigned time to stabilize. But these requests were not just over the top, they were in orbit.

If I were the Dean at a teaching campus, what kinds of things would I want to see from my humanities job candidates? How about a guarantee for the chance to teach a specialty course? Funds to attend special conferences and funds to hire students as research assistants. Someone wanting to start early so that they could start curriculum development. Someone wanting a summer stipend to do research outside the academic year?

Here’s the other big problem I have with the narrative that has dogpaddled around this story. It’s claimed that the job offer was rescinded because she wanted to negotiate. But that’s not the case. The job candidate was not even negotiating.

Part B: What exactly is negotiation and how do you do it with a teaching institution?

A negotiation is a discussion of give and take. You do this for me, I do this for you. You give me the whip, and I’ll throw you the idol.

In the pulled offer at Nazareth College, the job candidate was attempting to “negotiate” like Satipo (the dude with the whip), but from other side of the gap.

What the Dean received from the candidate wasn’t even a start to a negotiation. It was, “Here is everything I want from you, how much can you give to me?” That is not a negotiation. A negotiation says, “Here are some things I’m interested in from you. If you give me these things, this is what I have to offer.”

How should this candidate have started the negotiation? Well, actually, the email should have been a request to schedule a phone conversation. What should the content of that conversation have been? How could the candidate have broached the huge requests (pre-tenure sabbatical, starting in 18 months, very few preps, huge salary)? By acknowledging that by providing these huge requests, huge output would come back.

“Once I get a contract for my second book, could you give me a pre-tenure sabbatical to write this book?”

“I’m concerned I won’t be able balance my schedule if I have too many preps early on. If you can keep my preps down to three per year, I’ll be more confident in my teaching quality and I should be able to continue writing manuscripts at the same time.”

“Right now, I am working on this exciting project during my postdoc, which is funded for another year. If it’s possible for me to arrive on campus after I finish my postdoc, this work will really help me create an innovative curriculum for [a course I will be teaching]. During this postdoc, I’d be glad to host some students from the college for internships and help them build career connections.” Of course, it’s very rare a teaching institution wants to wait a whole extra year. They want someone to teach, after all! It couldn’t hurt much to ask, if you phrase it like this, verbally.

“After running the numbers, I see that a salary of $65,000 is standard on the market for new faculty at sister institutions. But from what I’ve seen from the salary survey, this is well above the median salary for incoming faculty. If you can find the funds to bring me in at this salary, I’m okay if you trim back moving expenses. Being paid at current market rate in my field is important to me, and if you let me know what level of performance is tied to that level of compensation, I’ll deliver.”

By no means am I a negotiation pro. What I do know comes mostly from the classic book, “Getting to Yes.” The main point of this book is that “positional negotiation” is less likely to be successful. This approach involves opposite sides taking extreme positions and then finding a middle ground. Just like asking for a huge salary, and lots of reassigned time and easy teaching.

Getting to Yes explains how to do “principled negotiation.” In this case, you have a true negotiating partner in which you understand and respect one another’s interests. So, instead of haggling over salary like buying a used piece of furniture at a swap meet, you discuss the basis for the salary and what each of you will get out of it.

If you are asking for a reduced teaching load, then you explain what you will deliver with this reduced teaching load (higher quality teaching and more scholarship), and what the consequences will be if you don’t get it (potential struggle while teaching and fear that you won’t have time to do scholarship). And so on. The quotes I suggested above are what you’d expect to see in a principled negotiation. The book is a bit long but there are some critical ideas in there, and I’m really glad I read it before I negotiated my current position. When it was done, both I and the Dean thought we won, and we reached a fair agreement.

If you are in the position of receiving an academic job offer, negotiating for the best starting position is critical. You don’t have to be afraid of having the offer withdrawn as long as you’re negotiating in good faith. That mean you communicate an understanding the constraints and interests of your negotiating partner. And being sure that when you are ask for something, your reason is designed to fulfill the interests of your partner as much as yourself. So, asking for a bunch of different ways to get out of teaching responsibilities is a non-starter when your main job responsibility is teaching.

It’s not only acceptable to negotiate when you are starting an academic job, it’s expected. The worst lesson to take from this incident is Nazareth is that there is peril in negotiation. I suggest that the lesson is that you must negotiate. And, keep in mind that negotiation is a conversation and a partnership towards a common goal. Even when it comes to money, there is a common goal: You want to be paid enough that you’ll be happy and stay, and they want you to be paid enough that you’ll stay.

You won’t have anybody pull a job offer from you if you’re genuinely negotiating. It’s okay to ask for things that your negotiating partner can’t, or may not want to, deliver. However, what you ask for should reflect what you really truly want, and at the moment you’re asking, provide a clear rationale, so that you appear reasonable. If you’re interviewing for jobs, then I recommend picking up a copy of Getting to Yes.

Conflicting interests of faculty and administrators


Motives of faculty and administrators can be highly variable. But even though many administrators were once faculty themselves, I can only imagine that things inevitably change when you put on that suit.

What are the ranges of possible interests of faculty members and administrators?

Administrators aren’t monolithic. Here are some various priorities that you might identify in an administrator, all of which might be mutually compatible. Of course I’m leaving plenty out, and of course many of these might not apply to any given administrator.

  • An administrator wanting to climb the ladder will need to keep a balanced budget, carry out the vision of higher-ups, and be well-liked.
  • An administrator who wants to make the university successful will also want to balance the budget, work to promote the visibility of the institution, and try to get the most work out of everyone as possible.
  • An administrator working to promote student success will support faculty efforts to teach and support students, will allocate resources to individuals who best enhance the education of students and is not overly focused on carrying out the nonsensical orders of higher-up administrators.
  • An administrator who just wants to collect the salary of the position until retirement will want to do as little as possible and delegate tasks without much thought. This administrator won’t allocate resources in a way that will require additional management or accountability.
  • An administrator who want to directly support the faculty interests experiences conflicts with higher levels of administration that have distinct expectations of administration.

What do faculty want? This group is more heterogenous than the administrators. Only a small, non-random, subset of faculty move into administration, after all.

  • Some faculty will do anything to teach effectively and want resources allocated towards classroom resources, student experiences, professional development of faculty and staffing to support student needs.
  • Some faculty are focused heavily on research, and want resources allocated towards the equipment and time required for research to get done, as well as support for campus-wide emphasis on research, including support for students conducting research
  • Some faculty are focused on things away from the university (a.k.a. retired on the job), and want resources allocated to minimize their efforts towards the job, so that they can ride horses and play with their dogs. They’ll want more staff, lower and easier teaching loads and no service commitments. They might want teaching technology that lets them be on campus less frequently.
  • Some faculty want to be accorded with respect and perceived to have prestige. These faculty members will want resources allocated to their pet interests and in ways that they may be able to exert direct control over these resources, often in a way that maximizes their visibility.
  • Some faculty want to have a faculty job at a different university because they are not fulfilled do not feel that they are being treated fairly. They are looking for resources that are allocated in a way that will help them to reinforce their CV to make them the most competitive on the job market.
  • Some faculty want to become administrators. They’ll spent lots of time doing service on campus and aren’t picky about how resources are allocated, so long as they’ll have the ability to do the allocating in the future. These faculty don’t have much overt conflict with administrators, though the administrators might be annoyed that they these faculty are pretending to run things instead of focusing on their actual job, to teach and do research.

Note that when faculty goals come in direct conflict with the goals of administrators, or of other faculty members, that’s when junior faculty members demonstrate the mythically poor “fit” that sinks tenure bids.

It’s no wonder that faculty and administrators can get into intense, and frequently petty, disagreements. Both the faculty and administration are diverse groups that can’t even agree on their own interests and priorities. As a result, productive cooperation with administrators is unlikely to emerge because there is a complex mélange of conflicts that define the structure of the relationship. The only thing that everyone has (or, you would hope, should have) in common is the interest in bettering the lives of our students.

I am consistently surprised at how many faculty members don’t perceive that their interests fail to match those of other faculty and administrators. As a result, some individuals consistently rail about one pet priority of theirs, which results in deaf ears all around. Some people are widely known for their pet issues. Pet-issue people aren’t ever in a position to convince others to make change happen.

Here is an attempt at a grand summary about conflict-cooperation between faculty and administration:

Admins and faculty have different priorities. Even within faculty, there are often be conflicts that prevent cooperation. Everybody is better off if the non-essential conflicts are overlooked, and the benefits of shared cooperation are emphasized. Conflict results in a waste of resources and results in lower productivity for all individuals.

I’m not advising faculty to roll over when administrators tell them what to do, but it might be wise to simply ignore the things that administrators tell you to do that are not mutually beneficial. Instead, we should focus on things that deliver for both the administration and faculty. There are only so many hours in the day, and if any of that time is spent arguing about something that isn’t in one’s mutual interest, it better be important enough to outweigh the lost benefits that could emerge from cooperation.

By the way, this happens to be the last installment of a 5-part series on conflict and cooperation between faculty and administration. Here are parts one, two, three and four.

Negotiating for reassigned time when writing a grant


Here’s a guiding principle: Don’t write a grant to do a project, if you don’t have the time to do the project that you proposed.

There are a substantial number of corollaries to this principle, especially at a teaching institution. The corollary I’m focusing on now is:

Be sure to get time assigned to the project by your administrators before you submit a grant.

Funding agencies spend most of their money at research institutions. Even if they claim to understand the role of research at teaching institutions, they do not back this understanding up with dollars. It’s tacitly understood that, if you land a grant, that you’ll have the time to work on the project. Even if the program provides for some salary for the PI, that salary isn’t enough to fully fund your effort on the project.

If your teaching load is two courses per semester, then you’re probably already expected to spend some serious time on research. However, if your load is much more than this, then most of your time is spent teaching, and the teaching would be substantially harmed if you’re trying to do a major project on a timeline at the same time.

If you are currently spending most of your time teaching, then you need to make sure that when you land a grant that you’ll be able to get the project done. The time to do this is before you submit a grant. After that, you won’t have much leverage in asking for time.

A number of my colleagues ultimately got fed up with, and left, their jobs because their administration wouldn’t give them the time to work on their externally funded projects. There has been some good discussion about this in the comments in an earlier post. These situations emerged because these scientists found themselves in a position in which they weren’t given the opportunity to do research that was expected of them by a federal agency. You don’t want to be in that position.

To avoid that situation, you need do talk to your chair, dean and provost up front about preparing and submitting a grant. Explain that you want to write a grant for X dollars to be submitted to Y agency that would accomplish Z. This project would bring in aX dollars of overhead and hire M students, and send some of them to grad school. However, you can only include bX dollars of salary for yourself, and to do the project would require more time if you’re going to do it right. Ask them what kind of support they could provide to make this project happen.

Negotiation is based on finding mutual interests. They administration wants a positive student experience, productive faculty, and external recognition of excellence. Grants can provide this for them, and they should be putting some money behind this. If they don’t want to reassign any of your time away from your teaching to work on the grant, then, frankly, you don’t want to waste your time writing that grant. You would be between a federal agency and a hard place if the grant came in and you couldn’t free yourself to get the project done right.

If your university can’t fund your time once your grants are funded, then your time spent writing grants might be better spent writing job applications. If your ambition is to do research, and your institution can’t support it, then you might well have some irreconcilable differences.

Teaching institutions have lower overhead cost recovery rates. Your provost and dean might not get enough overhead back to fully cover your reassigned time. If they do, then the decision for them should be a no-brainer. If they don’t, then they’ll have to find the money in other parts of their budgets to subsidize your research. If they value the research, and the opportunities it affords students, they’ll find the money. Remind them that you’re only asking for their support if the grant comes in, and that most grants are not funded.

On your end, you need to deliver product for the investment. If I’m ever asked to explain what I’ll deliver, I will promise to deliver a peer-reviewed paper in a well-recognized journal for every reassigned course (though not necessarily a first-authored paper). I’ve never been asked about this, though. My institution hasn’t ever funded reassigned time for more than 25% of my teaching load, so this hasn’t been a difficult benchmark to meet.

Most teaching campuses have their grant funding incentives bassakwards. There are plenty of grant incentive programs that help faculty get the time to write grants. I get that it’s cheaper to pay for time to write grants than it is to pay for faculty to work on funded grants.

Far less common is systemic support for faculty who are externally funded. This is what would really get grants rolling.

The last thing you want to do is pay an unfunded faculty member to write a grant. They’ll take the money, and might submit a grant, but if they do, is there any reason you should expect it to be competitive?

If faculty members are getting paid for their time to write a grant, but they won’t get any additional time when the grant comes in, then why would they want the grant to be funded?

When a faculty member really wants to do research, then a single reassigned course to write a grant isn’t goint to make a project happen. Those that want to do the research without reassigned time probably are already doing it.

For example, about a score of us on our campus just got funded a single reassigned course , plus some extra funds, to submit a grant within the next two years. I’m grateful for this time, and the additional funds to hire students to collect preliminary data, which’ll help me get a proposal out next January.

I was probably going to submit the grant in January regardless of whether the university gave me the time for it. I think most researchers who are earnestly wanting to get a grant funded would write the proposal without the time. Don’t get me wrong, the time helps, but it’s not making me write a proposal that I wouldn’t have otherwise written.

I am glad that I don’t have to squeeze it in so tightly, and it probably will be a better proposal because I’ll be less stressed in getting it together. I greatly appreciate the institutional investment. I really want the grant that I’m submitting to get funded. However, is that true for all of the other faculty who received these funds? It would not be rational for these faculty members to want to get the grant, because that just means more work without any time to make it happen. We’re already maxed out just teaching, so how are we going to add in more research?

Our university is paying for our time up front to submit a grant. And, once the grant comes in, do we have any time to do the project? The majority of the people who got funded are working in fields that won’t allow you to use much, or any, of your grant funds to buy your time to work on the project. (NIH is liberal about this, but there’s not much help for those in non-NIH fields. If you did buy enough time with the NIH grant, though, nothing would be left for the project.)

One thing to keep in mind is that writing a grant by no means indicates that you’ll get funded. Even R1 researchers are used to writing a ton of grants in order keep funding rolling, as most submissions aren’t funded. Check out the comments in Dr. Becca’s post showing how many grants folks submit to stay funded.

I don’t want to be put into the position of telling a federal agency that I will deliver on a project if I can’t create the opportunity to get the project done. If I got a standard NSF grant to do a research project, there’s no way I could get a project done to the level of NSF expectations without having the time in my schedule assigned to the project. I expect to get several publications out of a single external grant. That’s pretty standard for an NSF award, I think. How would I get the work done, much less write it all up, unless my institution gave me the time? NSF would let me buy out a course or two per year, or some summer salary, using the grant, but that might not be enough to meet NSF expectations.

So, now I’m in an awkward position. My institution is giving me time to write a grant, but as things stand, there’s no current policy in place about what will happen if it gets funded. So, before then, I’ll need to sit down with my new dean (my fourth in six years), and my provost (my fourth in six years), and have to ask, “I know you are helping me write this grant, but could I have some more?” Their answer will definitely reflect how I excited I am about the proposal that I’m writing over the next six months.

I’ll probably have to max out my salary in the budget of the grant, to the extent that I can’t fund students, and then it’ll get trashed in review for being topheavy. On the other hand, if I ask for only modest salary along with a time commitment from my institution, along the lines that you find from proposals originating from R1 campuses, then my proposal will look far more competitive. So, whether the administration realizes it or not, there are mechanisms that will prevent me from doing a project if I don’t have the time for it.

Startup needs for researchers in teaching schools


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.