Negotiating for What You Need to be Successful

Oh lucky day, you've got a job offer (or more than one). Now you need to negotiate salary, start-up funds, lab space, teaching duties, and perhaps a job for your spouse or partner. How do you get what you need, without creating tensions before you even start your new job?

Illustration of a handshake by Karen Grant

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Academic Salary Data

Job-hunting handbooks recommend that, when it comes to negotiating salary, you name a range, from the least you would accept to the most that would be reasonable for someone in the job you are after (e.g. Bolles, 2005 ; King, 1993 ). Here's how to find out what a typical assistant professor makes, wherever you are interviewing.... Keep in mind that the "average" assistant professor has been teaching for a few years and that salaries do vary by field.

  • The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) Annual Salary Report details average faculty salaries by type of academic institution, region of the country, gender, and academic rank. Do a little digging into their Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession to find these data.
  • Use the Chronicle of Higher Education's AAUP Faculty Salary Survey to find out what the average assistant professor makes at the specific institution where you're interviewing. The survey is based on six years of data from more than 1,400 colleges and universities. Remember, though, that this is averaged across disciplines, and that the average assistant professor has a few years of teaching experience.
  • Use the National Education Association's annual faculty salary report, published in the NEA almanac, to find out what the average assistant professor was making a few years ago at the institution where you are interviewing. This is not updated every year, so you will have to estimate how it may have changed since the most recent report.
  • If you are interviewing for an assistant professor position in a geoscience department at one of the "Big 10" Universities, here is a list of average salaries for assistant professors in those departments, in 2005. (Acrobat (PDF) 31kB Aug17 06) Similarly, here is a graph of assistant professor salaries in geoscience departments at public doctoral-granting institutions, 2006-2007. (Acrobat (PDF) 11kB Jul30 07) PLEASE NOTE: if you are interviewing at any other type of institution, these salaries are probably NOT a good basis for comparison.

Contract negotiation in academia

While salary is an important component of an academic job offer, it is by no means the only important aspect.

  • 36 Negotiable Items in an Academic Position, from Jane Tucker and Barbara Butterfield. While you won't want to include all of these items in your contract negotiations, you may want to look over this list and think about which ones you do want to include. Negotiating over a package of options, rather than a single item, leads to greater success (Tucker and Butterfield, personal communication).
  • Advice on Negotiating Salary, Teaching Load, Start-up, and Lab Space, from Tim Bralower. Tim is the chair of the geosciences department at Pennsylvania State University. This page is a summary of his presentation at the 2005 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences Workshop.
  • The NSF ADVANCE portal includes a set of resources on [link 'negotiation'], focusing on research and best practices.
  • Negotiating an Academic Job Offer, by Corinne A. Marasco. This article from Chemical & Engineering News has very detailed, specific advice for new science faculty negotiating an academic position. It describes both what is negotiable and what it is reasonable to ask for at a variety of institutions, from the perspectives of faculty members and administrators.
  • Go Ahead, Haggle, by Rebecca Bryant and Amber Marks. These graduate career counselors at a large research university explain that employers expect you to negotiate, and answer some frequently asked questions about negotiating for an academic job. Their advice addresses the questions of when to negotiate, what you should do to prepare for the negotiations, what is negotiable, and how to negotiate.
  • The Academic Job Search Handbook, by Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick, includes a chapter about job offers and negotiations, including information about what to do if your first offer is not your first choice.
  • The Womanly Art of Negotiation, by Catherine Conrad, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Catherine explores the reasons women are reluctant to negotiate, especially about salary, and describes examples of the consequences of failing to negotiate, including job dissatisfaction.
  • The Right Start-up Package for Beginning Science Professors, by Rick Reis, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Rick suggests several possible topics of negotiation, and gives examples of ways to request resources that will increase your chances of success while also benefitting your department or institution.
  • Postings from Rick Reis' "Tomorrow's Professor" Mailing List

    • 'General Principles for Responding to Academic Job Offers': Things to remember as you begin negotiating for an academic job.
    • 'The Right Start-Up Package -- It's Not Just About Money': Negotiating your start-up package is about "getting your career launched as quickly and effectively as possible." Here's a bit of advice on how to do that.

General resources on negotiation

Tips from Early Career Geoscience Faculty Workshop Alums

  • [Ask for things that will make your] first year easier and more productive. The first include salary and start-up funds. I didn't have much to go on in terms of what type of salary to ask other than what my friends were making at other universities. I have since found out there are lists compiling salaries by discipline and years of experience. I was told early on in my interview process to have a list of start-up equipment and their costs, and then to double it. This advice was very helpful in securing more dollars in start-up than I originally anticipated. Other advice I wish I had, was to request no teaching assignment your first year or at least your first semester in an attempt to get settled into your new office and lab space. I have seen a couple of new hires ask for a post-doc for one or two years as included as their start-up funds.
  • Make sure you negotiate everything you need to be successful in your new position: that is what your department should want for you as well. Ask for what you need, no more, no less; and be ready to justify each request in terms of an interest rather than a position (See Fisher and Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In ). Get as much of this explicitly stated in your offer letter as possible.
  • Starting pay is everything: You don't get a big bonus for doing well in academia. Don't think you'll get a raise beyond cost of living. Don't go along with the old line: "Well, you can apply for an equipment grant when you get here to buy X. I understand that they are not that hard to get." Make the university provide you with what you need to get your program started. You don't have a lot of time before the tenure clock is up. If you spend three years getting the equipment you need to get tenure, you're likely to be doing another job search soon.
  • Everyone told me to ask for what I needed during negotiations. This is important and it is better to ask for more because it will make succeeding more likely. I suggest polling others who were recently hired. The worst they can do is refuse to give information. I didn't see much wiggle room with negotiations until I had multiple offers. Then the rules seemed to change. The issues include: Reduced teaching for first year or two, laboratory renovations (are they being paid for out of start up, or done by the university and guaranteed to a certain level), safety issues, equipment matching funds (at least at 35% level, better if at 40% level), lab set up start up, lab running start up, student or post doc salaries or TA's, starting salary, summer salary, moving expenses.
  • Read the fantastic book titled something like "How to Negotiate and Make $1,000/minute". [Chapman, Jack. 2000. Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000/minute. Wilmette, IL: Jack Chapman.] It makes you think and write about what sorts of things you want to negotiate for and gives you some advice on how to do it.
  • Talk to peers at similar type institutions to see what is "normal" for starting out (salary, start up funds, etc.) Use the Chronicle of Higher Education to get the average salary for your institution and for similar institutions. Both are great benchmarks [on which] to base your negotiations.
  • Make a list of all of the equipment that [you will] need in order to conduct [your] research, complete with prices and models. While on interviews, I was asked point blank what I needed and how much it would cost to get me to the schools. Having this information on hand also made the negotiation process go faster.
  • You won't get it if you don't ask. This is your only time to get everything you need so be thorough. Get everything in writing (including room numbers for the space you will be assigned, amount of startup funds separate from any renovation costs, number of student support packages if any, number of months of summer support, and no [time] limit to spending out your startup). Two months summer support for the first two summers. Don't worry if the negotiations take a while and go back and forth a few times. Once the search committee has selected you, they are not going to renege on the offer. Other things that I did that I thought was useful: follow-up, go through your offer line by line, call on colleagues/mentors to go over the offer with you; expect your lab/equipment to not be ready by the specified always takes longer than it should; update all of the institutions where you have applied of any new funding or offers that you get during the process. This will work in your favor because any interested institution is usually impressed by new funding and/or other offers.
  • I wish I would have asked for a 10 hr/week administrative assistant for my first year.
  • Be very clear about what you need. (For my lab, I wrote a sort of mini-proposal to explain the features I required and the type of work that would go on in it.) Get every detail (that you think might be important) in writing. Part of the administration changed between the time I accepted my offer and started the job. I was surprised to see that I was given different, smaller lab space than promised. This is in the process of being fixed, but it is only because I insisted on a relatively detailed description of the lab in my offer letter (room numbers or some quantitative measure is advisable).
  • The most helpful thing I found when considering a job offer was to contact the union representing professors on campus. They provided my with salary information for recent hires and helped me evaluate whether I was getting a good deal. I felt like I could bargain with authority.
  • It is almost always much easier to negotiate startup than salary, and focusing on that will convey to the those hiring that you are more interested in having the tools you need to succeed at their institution than having more money for yourself. If you are interviewing at a PUI (particularly in a state that has intense budgetary constraints), there will be virtually no room to negotiate on salary and possibly little room to negotiate on startup. Pushing too hard on this may cause you to lose a job to another candidate, so only negotiate hard in these cases if you are willing to walk away.
  • Put together a startup justification document. I specifically outlined my research objectives and then created a budget for what I needed to build my lab and how I planned to spend it. Also, be sure to include an amount for "maintenance" as a line item in your budget. The dean of my college agreed to the amount I asked for, even though it was beyond my expectation. I think this was because I very clearly specified what I needed.
  • Because my primary focus in research is geoscience education, I had a written Memorandum of Understanding with my department that research in education, including conference presentations and articles in education-focused journals, would "count" toward tenure in the same way that geoscience disciplinary research "counts" for my colleagues.