Tuesday, August 13, 2013

ADVICE: Negotiating for a Tenure-Track Position II


CSWA got great advice on negotiating for a tenure-track position from Mordecai-Mark Mac Low. Mordecai is a tenured research curator in the Dept. of Astrophysics of the American Museum of Natural History in his home town of New York City, a position he got only after working in every time zone of the continental US, and Germany. He studies the formation of planets, stars, and galaxies, mostly using numerical simulations.

I just assisted my partner in her negotiations on beginning a tenure-track position in another technical field, so let me see if I can recap some of the thoughts I shared with her.

Don't take it personally when sudden delays appear in the offer and appointment process. Administrators get distracted, have piles of paper on their desks, and don't always sign off as quickly as they should. During my own appointment, the Provost in charge left on a research expedition for two months between initial offer and final agreement, during which absolutely nothing happened!

Start paying attention to the internal politics during your interview, and identify your allies. They may be able to feed you valuable inside information during the negotiation to make sure that you neither leave money on the table, nor make an unrealistically large request that is dead on arrival. Usually there is a factor of two or so range within which you can operate.


Draw up a start-up budget as soon as you get any initial indication that an offer might be coming. The components to consider include items similar to a grant budget:

- personnel. Graduate students (ideally sufficient funding to be able to offer a thesis position), postdocs (enough for a two year position ideally), technicians, data analysts, are all possibilities depending on your research program
- supplies and equipment to last until your first grant
- summer salary until your first grant (not everyone will give this, but you can ask)
- conference and research travel, both domestic and foreign - publication costs

Startup funds can come in many different ways. A cash budget is great of course, but maybe a graduate student RA can be allocated in lieu of some of the cash, or an internal postdoctoral fellowship. Maybe the department is able to cover publication or travel costs out of their budget. Reduced teaching load the first semester or year also can be a major contribution to a startup package.

One thing to watch out for with cash is whether it all has to be spent in the first year. This needs to be explicitly discussed (nothing worse than watching unspent money evaporate at the end of the year!)

Space is always something to discuss explicitly. Project forward to your needs when you've assembled a research team, and if you're doing any sort of lab work or instrumentation what your peak needs will be, and make those needs clear up front.

Inquire explicitly about whether reduced teaching loads can be purchased with grant funding.

Compensation is usually negotiable, particularly in the USA. One tactic is to look for statistics on comparable institutions, or try to get insight from peers who have started similar positions. Also consider the value of non-cash benefits, such as housing support (cheap mortgages, faculty housing, and such. These can be a subject of intense negotiation in big city schools), tuition for children, childcare, and other subsidies. What about parking?

Advanced standing on a tenure clock is often something to suggest if you are not coming directly out of a first postdoc position. Conversely, opportunities to stop the clock can also be valuable and should be checked for (e.g., for a new child).

Detailed justifications can help strengthen your negotiating position -- draw up a strategic plan for yourself to use in support of your specific requests.

Hope this is helpful!

For information on this and other topics, please see CSWA's advice page.