Monday, March 5, 2012

Things to Negotiate in an Academic Job Offer

If you have to kiss the chair's ring,
you're doing it wrong.
Eventually everyone will be faced with a time when they have a job offer and must decide what (if anything) to try an negotiate for.  Having done this recently myself, this is a list of things you may want to consider.  Not all of these I negotiated for myself, and not all of the things I negotiated for were granted, but I don't think you should ever accept an offer with at least trying to negotiate a little.  Remember, you're not asking for 'favors,' you're asking for things that will make you happier with the offer and may help you do your job better.


The is the obvious one.  This depends a lot on the department/college/university in question.  Some have flexibility to bump salary up a lot, some have a little wiggle room (a couple thousand extra), and some simply have no ability (or desire) to change the initial salary offer.  Some have union contracts that specify a specific amount or range for hires, some simply have no additional money for the position, and some are facing serious salary compression issues.  If the department is making multiple hires at once, they may not be able to negotiate all that much if they have to make all other offers equivalent.  Similarly, if they already have someone who accepted X a month ago, they are probably not going to want to give you X + Y if you're being hired at the same level, especially if they would be forced to also provide Y to their already-accepted hire.

If you choose to negotiate/ask for a higher salary, you will probably be better served if you can justify it with comparisons to other (comparable) institutions' salary structures, cost of living differences (especially if you currently have a position/salary), other offers you may have in hand, etc.

You don't want your colleagues
to see you as this guy...

This is, for me at least, the most tricky thing to ask about, as you can easily come off as naive or greedy if you ask for too much.  Further, if you end up jumping ahead of your more senior colleagues due to salary compression, then you can come into the department with bad blood already stacked up against you.  On the other hand, if you get low-balled, and the next year a new hire negotiates for more than you did, you'll feel like you missed an important opportunity and/or that you're being taken advantage of.

In my opinion its best to figure out what the lowest amount you would accept (which might be the initial offer amount), and ask for a reasonable amount over that.  What a 'reasonable amount over that' is really depends on the situation.  I've heard estimates from people that 10% more is reasonable to request at first, 5% more, $5k more, $2k more, etc.  It really depends on your own situation, and (perhaps more importantly) your reading of the situation.  Just remember that every extra dollar in salary will be an extra dollar you get year after year after year, so even a 'modest' increase can add up to a down payment on a house in a few years.

Summer salary or teaching:

Relatedly, if you're in a research-focused department, you might request a month or two of summer salary (or if they're rich and generous, multiple years' worth of summer salary).  This would help you keep focused on your research over the summer (if only for the guilt of getting the extra pay), and may help keep you from picking up additional classes to teach over the summer, thus giving you even more time to work on research.  Some R1/R2 institutions might offer a month or two of summer salary, but more than one summer's worth, at least from what I've seen/heard anecdotally in the sociology/criminology field, seems to be pretty rare.

Alternatively, you might ask to be guaranteed an opportunity to teach over the summer, if that's your department's 'thing.'  A couple of additional courses taught over the summer could, again, be a down payment on a house after a couple years.  If you have the option to teach an already prepped online course, the amount of work you have to put into the summer course could be very reasonable compared to teaching a brand new prep and/or an in-person course.

Teaching load:

While the long term teaching load is likely fixed (2/2, 3/3, etc.), your first semester/year you might be able to get a course reduction (more than that seems quite rare).  You should phrase this negotiation point in terms of the course release(s) helping you to establish your research agenda, write a grant, etc.  If you're in a teaching heavy institution, this is probably less likely to fly, but it might be worth a shot.  In either case, you can also look into setting up a nice course prep schedule (see below).

Course preps:

Depending on the expectations and flexibility of your department, you might request to teach multiple sections of the same course the first semester or year.  This would be a huge benefit in terms of not having to prep multiple courses, especially the first semester, and if you can swing it to teach the same course the whole year, your spring semester should be incredibly easy (possibly allowing you to start prepping for that next fall?).  Even if you can't teach multiple sections, the ability to choose what courses you teach can be a big bonus compared to being assigned courses.  This might also include teaching only undergrad courses the first year, not teaching large seminars, etc.


Being able to choose your
RA can be a very big deal
If you're teaching multiple/large classes, having a TA assigned to you might be the norm.  Even if it's not, you might be able to request a grad student be assigned (and paid) to help you with grading, teaching, etc.  On the other hand, if research is a big thing in the department, you might be able to get an RA assigned to you to help with your research and/or some of the grunt work (literature searches/library runs, data coding/cleaning, etc.).  Having an RA assigned to you could also be a great start to future co-authored work, assuming the RA shares your interests.  Related to this, being able to choose your RA might be something else you can negotiate that can go a long way to setting yourself (and them) up for success.

Research/travel funds:

You'll likely get some type of research start up if you're in a research-focused department.  From what I've seen/experienced in the social sciences, this could range from a few grand at more teaching focused places, to more than $25k at some R1 departments.  Sometimes this start up fund includes moving costs in that amount, and sometimes this is a separate budget.  I personally like the idea of combining moving funds with research funds, assuming that 1) the combined amount is the same as the separate amounts would have added up to, and 2) any amount you don't spend on moving remains for your research.

In any case, if you ask for a larger research budget, you should justify the need for it with a list of expenses (hardware/software, data costs, conference travel, etc.) that you'll likely incur from doing your research.  Similarly, you might be able to negotiate a bump in the annual travel funds you have access to, especially if you need to go to foreign countries for your main conference venues.  Another thing to make sure is that your funds do not expire.  Sometimes there is also a release schedule, so that you'll have access to 50% of your start up funds in year 1, 25% in year 2, and the remaining 25% in year 3.  You'll want to figure out if this is the case up front.

Computer equipment:

Related to research funds, some places will buy your first computer setup as a separate deal from the research funds, whereas others (like my current position) may have you buy your equipment out of your research budget.  If it is a separate deal, then you might want to ask for the ability to specify what setup you get (e.g., laptop vs. desktop, processor speed, RAM, hard drive size, dual monitors, external hard drive backup), rather than simply getting the 'standard' desktop setup.  This also goes for specialty software you might need (SPSS, STATA, ArcGIS, etc.).  It would also be a nice bonus if the department is willing to buy that software separate from your research funds, or if they have access to a site license.

Sometimes departments that buy your first computer will have a replacement schedule.  I know of departments with 3 year schedules, which seems fairly reasonable to me.  In any case, you'll want to figure out how long you need to plan to use the computer before you can get it replaced, as that can influence how much of your research funds (if any) you want to spend to upgrade it.

Regardless of whether the computer is paid for from the department or your research funds, I highly recommend getting dual monitors, which *might* require a specialized video card for the computer itself.  This is definitely an expense I would have no qualms about using my research funds for.

Moving funds:

Not smart, but possibly
tax deductible!
From what I've seen, most places will pay at least some of the costs of your move.  One of my friends was given, essentially, a blank check for moving costs, so he went with full packing/loading/unloading, to the tune of, I think, $12k for his cross country move.  My own cross country move cost around $5k for the movers to load/unload the truck and drive it cross country, with almost all of the packing done ourselves.  There was another ~$2k in misc. expenses like gas/food/hotel costs for driving myself, my wife, and our three cats cross country in our vehicle.  In any case, if you're moving a fairly long distance (500+ miles), I'd expect moving costs to be a substantial chunk of change that hopefully the department will help cover.  Also keep in mind that if the moving van cannot fit down your street (either on pickup or delivery), there will be an extra cost for a shuttle.  This can bump up your expenses by a few thousand dollars, so be aware if this will be an issue where you're moving.  Note that moving expenses are largely tax deductible if you're moving to a job more than, I think, 50 miles away from your current place of employment, with some exceptions (like house hunting trip costs, which are taxable income).

House-hunting trip/costs:

Eh, I'll just rub some dirt on the
bumper. I'm sure they won't notice.
Related to moving costs (and sometimes lumped together in the offer) would be costs to house/apartment hunt a few months before you moved.  This obviously will depend on how far away and how expensive the new location will be to visit.  My own house-hunting expenses were about $2k between the cross country flight (for me and the wife), hotel for ~5 days, rental car, and food/misc expenses.  Note that this (at least in the US), counts as taxable income, so I eventually paid tax on that as if it was pure cash in my paycheck.  Regarding the rental car, you can frequently get damage coverage if you use a VISA or other credit card to pay for it (double check this).  This is incredibly important if you happen to (very slowly) smash into the back of a truck with a tow hitch in a random parking lot... not that I'd know anything about that.  Related to that point, dark colors are easier to hide damage on...

A pre-tenure research semester:

Some of the research-focused departments might offer a pre-tenure research semester (i.e., a mid-tenure sabbatical) that you can use to get papers out the door, finish off a book manuscript, do some important research in far away lands, etc.  The idea is that you don't teach anything for the semester (nor have service requirements), and it's supposed to help you get things done and ready for the tenure packet.  Sometimes you can break up the research semester into multiple-semester-course-releases (so if you normally teach a 2/2, and you'd get a 2-course release for 1 semester, you might be able to take a 1-course release for 2 semesters instead, giving you a 1/1 load for that whole year, albeit possibly with service requirements).  I doubt you can realistically negotiate this point, at least as a new assistant professor -- they probably either do or do not offer this to their tenure-track faculty, but it's at least something to ask about to see if it's available.

Time towards tenure and/or clock resetting:

This doesn't really apply to 'new' people on the job market, but if you were changing positions after a year or more at another department, you might have flexibility in exactly how many years you'll have to your tenure decision.  This might mean going up for tenure a year or two early if you've been super productive already.  If you're on the verge of a tenure decision, it might mean being awarded tenure automatically.  If you are feeling a little behind, this might mean resetting the tenure clock all the way back to a 'year 1' status, or pushing the tenure decision back just a year or two.  In any case, this can be an important thing that can give you some breathing room, peace of mind, or a quicker path to tenure.

One last thing

One thing to keep in mind is who holds the purse strings.  In some cases, the person you negotiate with will be able to approve most or all of your requests themselves.  In other cases, they might have to run things by their boss (i.e., a chair running things by a dean).  So the back and forth might take a few days in between 'rounds' of negotiation, or might be tied up in one phone call.  Regardless of who approves (or disapproves) your requests, you can't get something you don't ask for.

That's all I've got at the moment.  If I think of other things you could potentially negotiate, I'll edit this post.

Image Credit: Baby Bling, The Godfather, DumbMoving, Crash