Negotiating the best deal for your research is something few junior faculty members are prepared for. Here’s some friendly advice.
New faculty are often given a start-up fund by their new department, which is designed to be enough to cover equipment costs and other expenses before the grants start knocking on the door. The sum of the start-up isn’t set in stone, and this leads to a dreaded period of negotiation; the difficult and lengthy process that few junior faculty members are prepared for. Here, Naturejobs offers help and advice that any new faculty member should bear in mind when trying to get the best deal to carry out their research.
1. Know what you need before beginning any dialogue
Before beginning any negotiation, make sure to know what you absolutely need to carry out your research. Whether this is a telescope, the latest interactive graphics package, a peptide sequencer or a good old-fashioned centrifuge, getting your essentials right will put you in the right position to begin negotiating.
2. There’s no point having equipment if you don’t have any hands to use it
One of the largest costs you can expect to come out of your start-up fund are the salaries of PhD students and postdocs. They’re the most crucial components of the lab for almost all researchers. These are also expensive and, unlike equipment, you have to keep paying for them. If you don’t have the hands available to do the science, all of the new shiny equipment in the world isn’t going to make a difference. Factor trainee costs into your budget.
3. Keep a detailed and prioritised inventory
You don’t have to list every pipette and syringe you expect to use in one year’s worth of research, but make sure to have an idea about how much these consumables cost, and summarise them as part of your budget. The more detailed your budget is, the better you’ll look.
4. Remember the little things
Remember the personal details like parking, or covering a house-hunting visit, or moving expenses, or day care, or holiday time, or teaching requirements. All of these can be discussed as part of the negotiation process, and if you feel you need something extra to carry out your research, you shouldn’t shy away from mentioning it. These should come into the negotiation process later, after the larger issues have been largely ironed out.
5. Take your time
The whole process takes a lot of time, and this is not a bad thing. Use that time to prioritise your request list, and to go through each iteration of an offer thoroughly (see get everything in writing). Be patient – even if this is your only offer, the people you’re negotiating with don’t know that.
6. The process is a partnership
Walk into the negotiation process with this in mind – both you and the board you’re negotiating with are trying to get the best deal to carry out your research, and wherever you’re applying, they won’t have an unlimited amount of money. Everyone wants to see you succeed.
7. Stay grounded
Don’t have an ego when applying for start-up funds. Think objectively about what you do and don’t need, and remember that there are more likely than not other people who will also need start-up funds soon. Give on some things. The people you’re talking to will be much more experienced than you in negotiating, and will know an ego when they see it.
8. Get everything in writing
This can be harder than it sounds – often people will call to let you know their latest offer, and whilst you should of course be appreciative, getting the details in writing is the only way to guarantee that offer. Just send a quick email to the person who made a verbal offer to confirm what was discussed. It also means you can take your time, and check over the paperwork for anything you might have missed.
9. Be genuine
Negotiating is not a battle over the money available. Remember that both parties want your research to succeed and build that into your negotiations. Be genuine and honest and people will be grateful for it. Who knows – they may well give you a little more than they were intending to. Make sure to explain why you need everything you need, as opposed to just saying that you do – transparency is key.
10. Be positive
Always approach every step with enthusiasm, and try to suggest win-wins. Perhaps you could share some of the equipment you need with other members of the group, or maybe the cost of a PhD student could be split collaboratively with another member of the department. If all goes well, you’re going to be working with the people you’re negotiating with for a long time; make sure to start off on the right foot.
Negotiation can be a painful process, but with the right attitude and skill set, you can turn it into a genuine tool to help you and your new department find the right way to help you succeed in your research. Good luck out there, and check out next week’s post on how to set up your brand new, freshly-negotiated lab. Stay tuned.
University of California, San Francisco’s advice package
Stanford University’s general principles advice
Advice from the American Astronomical Society
Check out the other posts in the faculty series: