Negotiating – your start-up list

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.


14 thoughts on “Negotiating – your start-up list

  1. Nice, and don’t forget to share your supply list with fellow science bloggers who can remind you of things your might be missing. Great tip on getting the department to get some stuff (freezers, fridges, etc) in ahead of your arrival.

  2. Yes yes yes, GR! If you’re not worried about unveiling a pseud, quite a few of us would be willing to take at look at your list to see if there’s anything you may have missed 🙂

  3. Crowd sourcing your list is the best way to see what’s cheaper, better, or what you forgot. But I have to say, Dr. O had a beautiful list. The Cowboys theme waste baskets were a nice touch I thought.

  4. Fantastic post, Dr. O! I will reiterate that you WILL forget stuff, but there’s no use freaking out about it–if you did a good job negotiating, you’re squeezing every penny out of your Dean anyway, so it may not have made a difference even if you did remember it.

    And yes, spreadsheets are your friend–multiple spreadsheets. Now that I’ve ordered a bunch of stuff, I have a spreadsheet with my original startup list from negotiating, with how much I budgeted for each item. Next to it, I’m writing in how much I’ve spent so far on those items, so I can see where I over (or, in rare cases, under) estimated how much everything would cost. Then I have an easy tally of how much “extra” money I have. Yay extra money!

  5. My start-up list spreadsheet has multiplied too! I actually have mine divided up by project, since I know I won’t start working on everything I budgeted for in my start-up right away. I have a lab set-up sheet (major equipment, chemicals, and supplies), then spreadsheets for sub-projects 1, 2, and 3. I figure that way I can order those supplies as I hire the personnel to use them. Last I have a budget spreadsheet linked in to keep track of how much start-up and K grant money I have left.

    Spreadsheets are fun. Actually, anything that lets me organize is fun. I’m weird.

  6. 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.

    No, salaries of people you hire to work in your lab will be the bulk of your start-up spending.

  7. No, salaries of people you hire to work in your lab will be the bulk of your start-up spending.

    Good catch – was focused more on equipment and expendables when I wrote that. You’re totally right, though. Personnel should figure into your start-up spending and they are very expensive, comparatively.

  8. Agree with both of you, in the long run salaries will burn up your start up but immediately (year 1-2) you are going to be dropping a shitload of money on equipment and supplies.

  9. I don’t know, GR. The “budget” that my start-up package was based on was pretty heavy on personnel funds…probably just as much as, if not more than, the equipment costs. This probably depends on the institution and what they’re willing to pony up for personnel, as well as the PI and how much s/he wants to be in the lab versus grant-writing. (I think we know which end of that spectrum CPP would fall on.)

  10. so now I’m wondering how you go about finding an amazing lab tech to help get things up and running… especially in a new town and new school

  11. This series of posts has been very helpful. I will be sending my CV out in a few months–waiting to hear on a couple grant apps, and several manuscripts need to be submitted. Like you I have a family in tow, but the wife is still in school (graduating in May 2012). Some would think finding a position would be easier since she won’t need to find employment, but not so fast. Wifey plans on continuing her education as a medical professional. This will make life interesting.

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