For my first real post I’m gonna steal a little sumthin’-sumthin’ I wrote over at Drug Monkey. The discussion was veering off into negotiations for startup funds and since I recently went through this process I dropped the following experiences:
While we’re talking about startups I thought I’d share some advice based on my recent experience (interviewing and obtaining tenure track position at an R1 University). I had a Fellowship and a Foundation grant (as PI) as a postdoc, but no portable funds.
1) Be well prepared to negotiate. I was told negotiations started after the first interview, usually when you come back for your second interview but this is not how it went for me. Several interviewers wanted to know what my startup needs would be during first interviews. Luckily I was ready for this (thanks to some good advice from the postdoc mentor). I carried around a budget proposal with year by year details for a 4 year startup package and I got it out of the bag every time I was asked. I expected to be grilled on it, what actually happened was quite interesting… people generally gave me advice on unexpected details that I had not thought of. In other words, this plan helped me demonstrate that I was prepared and it also helped my recognize that I had advocates in departments that were willing to offer advice in unexpected ways.
2) Demonstrate that you are prepared to start submitting grants. The next question after the budget discussion was always why do you need this money? I also had a R01-style grant ready to go and in my bag which would be the next thing to come out. No one ever asked for a copy or anything like that but it clearly had an effect. This also allowed me to show preliminary data that was not in my talk and explain methods in more detail by going to diagrams, etc.. It is very easy to explain your budget needs when you have an experimental plan right in your hands.
3) Be completely honest about what you need and when you need it. Many new investigators need more money up front to get the equipment they need into the lab so they can start the work. This sounds obvious but not everyone will get it. During the negotiations be sure that your budget details fit the timeline of when you need things. My experience was that no one wanted to screw me on the funds but not everyone understood that I needed a substantial bolus up front. My goal was to make sure that people with hands on the purse strings understood this so that the Dean’s office would also understand.
After negotiations, once you are in the new spot and spending money:
1) Do not complain to the Dean! Do talk to the Dean! Someone, maybe the Dept chair, should facilitate your getting to know your Dean. If no one does, make sure it happens. Deans generally understand the financial problems everyone is having right now and many of them are under pressure themselves from above to make sure the money keeps flowing in. Let the Dean know who you are and let your enthusiasm for your new position shine through when you talk to him/her. Back it up by getting those grants out early and often. If the Dean knows who you are, chances are they will notice such things when they get reports from Deans of Research on submitted grants.
2) Give talks within the University at every opportunity. Scientists are interested in new directions. One way to make your startup grow is to get those collaborations started. This doesn’t mean you should neglect your own research program because your most important obligation is to demonstrate that your lab is up and running and ready to produce. My experience has been that after I give my talks in different departments people come to me with new tools and/or directions that can help me achieve my aims. Often this has resulted in an invitation to use equipment to do new things, new equipment I don’t have to buy with new data to put into grants.
3) There are people in your University who are counting on your success. Don’t ever be in the position where you need to explain what you’re doing. Tell people, enthusiastically, what your newest data is and which grant applications you’re working on before they ask. Seek advice to improve your applications and to demonstrate that you are generating interesting data. Be your own best advocate.
Hopefully this will be of some use to others going through the process now…