The hunt: negotiating my tenure-track job offer

This is the fourth and final in a series of posts about my hunt for the tenure-track. Since I have no idea how much my decisions, persistence, and luck played into my fortune, it is not purposed as a guide for how to secure a tenure-track position, but rather highlighting my experience. I’ll leave it to others (as well as my future, tenured self) to clarify what it was that I did right.

The negotiation process generally begins when a department chair contacts you, after a first or second interview (depending on the institution at which you interviewed does things), and makes an offer. This offer may be in writing, or by phone. It may be very generous or stingy. You may be told outright that you should ask for additional equipment, funds, personnel, or whatever else you may need; or you may be told take it or leave it.

At least this was my understanding prior to my own experience – that negotiations can take on several different forms – and mine certainly didn’t unfold in a manner that I had ever heard of before. In fact, my negotiation started before the first interview was even over, when I was asked what TTU (Tenure Track University) would need to do for me to accept the position. I wish I could say I handled the moment smoothly, but the first words that came out of my mouth were something like “manamana” (h/t to Dr. Rad) or something similarly incomprehensible. As I struggled to find the most appropriate way to respond, the following questions began racing through my head:

  • Is this a negotiation?
  • Is this an offer?
  • What is happening?
  • Am I having an out-of body experience?
  • What? The? Fuck?

So what did I say? Well, I repeated the question, giving me just the slightest bit of time to very quickly develop a couple of reasonable requests. One was based on what would be required for my K grant to be funded (which in turn would also be very helpful for me – a great negotiating tool to hang my hat on). The other was that I’d appreciate any assistance TTU could provide in helping Hubby find a job*, since we couldn’t afford to live in TTT (Tenure Track Town) without a second salary, no matter how meager.

I don’t know if I would have handled this question the same had I known it was coming, but these were the first requests to jump into my head, and thus probably the most important to me. In other words, my answer was honest, and that honesty permeated my negotiation process with TTU. Not that I was an open book, but I asked for what I needed, and was realistic with myself and TTU when making those requests. At the outset, I was given the lead in the negotiations, and therefore had to spend a great deal of time figuring out exactly what I would need to be successful.

Shortly after returning from my interview, I generated an equipment and supply list with an approximate budget for my first several years in the lab. The list included large and small equipment, instrumentation, expendables, reagents, personnel, travel, the works. When it was clear that I would be getting an offer, I was asked to send this list, which was then used to generate my offer. After discussing the offer with my mentor, my new chair and I went over the offer by phone, and I asked lots of questions about everything from salary to lab space to funding allocation to leave time. I developed a list of modifications that I would need, along with my rationale for each change, and sent this “counter offer” to my chair. After a second visit, with Monkey and Hubby in tow, I accepted a modified offer from my new chair.

Bottom line, I asked for all that I thought I might need (and maybe a little bit more), and I received almost everything I requested. If TTU couldn’t give me something that I asked for, they found a way to make something else work, or they explained why they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) acquiesce. I was always respectful of their side, but maintained my backbone on issues that mattered the most to me. In turn, my chair was incredibly accommodating and willing to meet me more than half-way. All-in-all, the negotiating process may have set me up for even greater success, since I started planning the finer details of my research  program before I even had a job. Turns out, wearing big girl pants has an upside.

* This second request ended up being a moot point, since Hubby managed to secure a transfer within his current company. Even so, TTU appeared to be very interested in helping us out in any way they could, since they didn’t want to separate a young junior prof from her family – one of the main reasons I was so excited about TTU from the start.

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8 thoughts on “The hunt: negotiating my tenure-track job offer

  1. Honesty is the best. These institutions really want to set you up for success, otherwise you are a liability and waste of $$$. As Dr. O stated, your job, when negotiating, is to communicate what you *need* and why you need it…..
    This is good stuff!! 🙂

  2. This has been an excellent series. Thanks, Dr. O! I am in the process of deciding between offers/negotiating for a tenure-track position and I was hoping you would be able to provide your equipment/supply list (edited for pseudonymity, of course) or point me towards some helpful resources for this type of information. I am trying to get a better handle on how much it costs to set up a molecular biology/mouse lab (I know this can be quite field dependent). Also, has anything really surprised you that you had to pay for out of start up, etc.?

  3. Pingback: Negotiating – your start-up list | The Tightrope

  4. Thanks for another great post. It’s good to hear how your negotiations went since it was pretty different from others I’ve heard of. Did you have to negotiate for a higher salary, or was it primarily the start up? I’m glad your hubby was able to transfer, such a relief! We haven’t had many Monkey updates lately, what are some of his new party tricks?

    Meiopic- I haven’t yet done this, but working with your current PI, PhD advisor, and friends in the field would likely give you a better idea of what you will need since equipment can vary greatly depending on subfields. Also, your needs may depend on the university and whether a shared use facility has equipment that you could use for free rather than buy. I’ve worked/studied at 4 different universities and they all vary greatly in what is available.

  5. Did you have to negotiate for a higher salary, or was it primarily the start up?

    The first offer I got was very good, and I had very little to quibble over, including salary. I had done my research and knew what I was offered was very competitive. Instead, I spent my time negotiating what I needed to get my research program off the ground.

  6. How did your K play into this? Do you think this helped your ability to bargin with your chair and were you expected to contribute to equipment, salary etc. from your grant?

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