Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 14)updated..

It feels a little odd to be writing about negotiating for a faculty position while I’m right in the midst of some hair raising posts about near academic faculty position disasters. But well, I was never one for perfect timing. I just write it as it comes to me.

If you should be so fortunate as to have a department chair call you and offer you an academic position- you’re already pretty aware of the things that need to be negotiated. Traditionally these include:

1. Salary, and who pays what part of your salary.
2. Start-up funding for your laboratory
3. Laboratory Space.
4. Any monies for technical support- if these not included in start-up funding.
5. Anything else you can think of. Child Care support?? Paid Parental Leave..???
6. I’m sure there is something I forgot.

Pinus kindly reminds me of:

7.  Teaching and other service responsibilities- when will you have to start, and how much?
8.  Moving expenses
9.  Start date

10.  Spousal support/position…very important…

Let’s just start at the arbitrary beginning of the list, the salary.
Mad Hatter and others have been interested in ‘salary structure’ as I have already written in some of my posts that salary structure can vary from institution to institution and even WITHIN an institution from department to department. First, some definitions:

Hard Money– This is salary support provided to you from the institution itself.

Soft Money– This is money that you must bring in from external funding sources, read federal grants.

Length of your appointment– you will see this stated as a ’12 month appointment’ or a ‘9 month appointment’ and this generally means the number of months in a year that the institution pays your salary for, and this can be stated other ways as well- in terms of the % Salary support, or % hard money you will receive from the institution over a given period as well.

% Salary Support– This is where the hard and soft money comes in. Your % Salary support is the % of your salary that is paid by the institution… i.e. the % Hard Money… over the annual period of your appointment.

I interviewed at many places when I was on the job market- and just about everyone had a different salary structure. There is a vast range and almost no rules for this- the situation can go all the way from the institution paying none (or almost none, I think the 15% was mentioned) of your salary, to the institution paying 100% of your salary for all 12 months of the year. This latter situation is rare, (some people think it is non-existent but I assure you that it is not it occurred in 3/10 institutions I interviewed at), and occurs mostly in large public universities and in such places where your job will include moderate (and more) teaching responsibilities. The flashy, big name institutions where you will have lesser service commitments will GENERALLY provide you with less hard money support.- Copy medical schools into this category. Yes, you usually have to contribute to teaching ‘service’ to have the benefits of complete salary support…. In my experience, that is.

To make this all more confusing, different places use different terms to describe the same level of salary support. For example- a ‘9 month appointment’ can mean that the university pays your salary for 9 months- and you have to come up with three months worth of cash for your salary. This is the same as having a 75% hard money appointment over 12 months- you have to come up with the extra 25%… the extra 3 months. Then you have to determine whether the hard money provided by the institution for your salary will be paid out over 9 months or divided over all 12 months.

As junior faculty you should negotiate to have as much of your salary paid by the institution, so as large percentage hard money, as you can get…. And for as long a period of time as you can. This removes some pressure on you in the first years of your career to immediately come up with some portion of your salary. At places that I interviewed it was not uncommon to be able to negotiate 2-3 years of 100% salary support- followed by a drop in hard money support to 50+%… I think the figures I heard were 60%, and 75% after two to three years.

Of course this all depends on the actual $$s as well. There is no average number for the starting salary of junior faculty in the biological sciences. I am sorry to say that this can vary wildly EVEN IN THE SAME DEPARTMENT FROM YEAR TO YEAR, AND PERSON TO PERSON. There are a couple of ways you can determine what is a reasonable salary- these include looking at resources such as the book put out annually by the American Association of Medical Schools which gives a very rough guideline of what faculty are making adjusted for terminal degree, rank and region of the country. This is a VERY rough approximation. Also, if the institution you are applying to is a public university- the operating budgets for these are generally publicly available. In the case of my institution all you have to do is walk into the library and ask for it. The operating budgets are quite detailed, and you should be able to find the salaries of all the faculty and administration in these documents. With a little sleuthing you can figure out which junior faculty you are comparable to in degree, rank etc.- and see what their salaries were when they were hired.

You should have all this information gathered when the chair calls you- you should have an idea what is reasonable and you should be ready to negotiate up. A word about asking for more- I’m in favor of asking. This is because I’m a girl, and my tendency is not to ask at all- and I have to consciously fight that tendency. Why is it a good idea to have a bigger salary starting out, well- every raise you ever get will be a percentage of your starting salary… and this adds up hugely (is that even a word, hell it’s my blog I can say whatever I want…) over a lifetime of work.

I’m going to have to get back to 2-6 later…

Other posts on negotiating startup…by Physioprof at the new Drugmonkey… by Juniorprof about startup…at the old Drugmonkey…and by Sciencewoman about startup…and a few comments by various people on this post at Drugmonkey…


8 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 14)updated..

  1. Another thing to keep in mind is that chairs are usually somewhat inflexible about the length of time that they will provide hard money full salary support. However, a neat tactic that works is to suggest that the chair put aside $100K-150K (for the life science types) or even 80% of a typical modular R01 budget/year. Then you negotiate in your contract (in writing) that this money will be available to you in case you don’t have R01 support by that time. If you already have that money, then you will not avail of this. This way, you can cleanly hedge your bets in a tricky funding climate. Of course, one suggestion is to make sure that you negotiate your startup first and then spring this on them. I know of at least two people who did this successfully and one of them is glad that they did. I wish this had occurred to me when I was negotiating….

  2. Great post! So are negotiated salaries (hard money plus soft money) fixed or variable? For example, let’s say a department will provide 70K in hard money and the faculty member has to come up with 30K in soft money for a total salary of 100K. If the faculty member is wildly successful at getting grants, can she decide to contribute 50K in soft money instead, thus effectively giving herself a raise to 120K?

  3. Mad Hatter-

    As with all other aspects of this, it depends. In other departments in my institution, you can compress your 100% 12 month salary down into as few as 9 months after you have grants. So, you can elect to pay yourself as few as none or as many as 3 months salary off your grants. HOWEVER, in that particular case once you have elected to compress your salary you can’t undo this action if you were, for example, to lose your grant. I think this, being able to compress your ‘hard’ money salary once you have grants is pretty common- although I don’t know if the irreversiblity of what occurs in my institution is standard issue. I tend to think that there are no hard and fast rules across institutions/different departments.

    In my own part of the institution- we can’t do this. What we can do is pay ourselves a ‘bonus’ of sorts once a year off our grants up to a certain $ limit. You have to make a request to the dean, then he decides how much $$ you will get- so the total amount of your request is not necessarily what you will get. This always seemed kind of silly to me- because basically they are deciding under some reasonable limit how much you can pay yourself with grant funds you brought in, but nevertheless.

  4. another negotiation point: spousal support. If you are part of a 2-body equation it doesn’t hurt to ask for something here. may not work, but it doesn’t hurt.

    other things to negotiate:

    moving expenses
    when you will start

  5. Pinus-

    Yes, of course. I’ll add them to the post… WHAT was I thinking!! Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Salaries and Personnel to Start Your Lab… « Blue Lab Coats

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