I started writing this little thing below about start up packages and equipment lists in reply to a comment on my last post, but it got uber long. So now it’s a post unto itself, and really, it should have been all along. Figuring out what to ask for in my start-up package might have been the most stressful part of my negotiation, because OMG-what-if-I-forget-something-and-fuck-everything-up-before-I-even-have-a-job-eeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!!!
Let me save you the worry – you will forget things. Big things. And it will be okay. Because the deals you get as a new PI will give you a buffer. And some chairs are willing to help you out after the fact if you do run short (this is something to ask about and take into consideration, but not a reason to go lax on putting together a solid start-up list). So take a deep breath, and open up exel on your laptop (or iPad). This new file will be your best friend for the next few months.
Equipment and instrumentation will be the bulk, maybe 70-80% of your start-up spending, so this is a good place to start building your list. Take a walk around your current lab and write down everything you use. Don’t just look on the floor – equipment is hiding everywhere in your lab. On the walls, under and above the sinks, under benches, on shelves, even in drawers. Look everywhere, and remember to include any departmental equipment you use that’s not in your lab. Also, see if you can get your hands on a Fisher or VWR catalog – thumbing through those books during my lunch (aka pump) breaks was very informative!
Keep in mind that more expensive equipment will take a while to come in. If you’re gonna need something that costs more than, say, $10K, and you think you’ll need it in the first couple of months, see if you can negotiate the department purchasing it for you prior to your arrival. Especially at some public universities, very expensive equipment, which needs to be sole-sourced, may take 6 months or longer to arrive.
Next, go through your bench, freezers/refrigerators, and protocols to figure out what supplies you specifically use. Sit down with whomever in your lab does the ordering and get an idea of how much the lab spends on expendables each month. S/he might even be able to give you an idea of your specific spending levels if you’re on a grant by yourself. Also think about your project, and how it could be broken down into technician/grad student/postdoc type projects to determine how much personnel you’ll need for the first few years. And don’t forget travel for you and your future minions.
Most important, make sure you get a look-see at your potential lab space and figure out logistics. Does the space already have a fume hood / tissue culture hood? Do you have enough bench space for the personnel and small equipment you’ll need? Is there furniture in the lab already, or will you need to buy chairs/desks, tables, etc? Do they have a dark-room and any special and completely expensive equipment ($100K) that you’ll need? Will you be sending strains from your old institution to your new one, and is there space to store stuff and work while you’re waiting for freezers to come in? These are all things that can be negotiated, even if not as a dollar amount, in your start-up package. Maybe they can buy a hood on department funds. Maybe they can give you space in a cold room. Find this all out before signing a letter. AND MAKE SURE IT’S IN THE LETTER!!!!
This all takes time, and let me reiterate – you will forget things. But the time you put in now will save you time down the road, when you’re on the tenure clock. Spending an hour or so each night for a couple of weeks drumming through a spreadsheet in front of the TV with a glass of wine isn’t so bad, IMO.