This is Part One of what will surely be, at the very least, two parts on navigating and negotiating TT job offers.
I'd imagine that right this very moment, some of you are in the midst of negotiating your startup packages. If so, congratulations on your offers! I hope you're feeling awesome. When I found out that the places I'd interviewed at wanted to make me offers, I indeed felt very awesome, but I also felt supremely stressed out, because both asked ME to give them a starting point. The ball was in my court, and I was terrified--if I may mix my metaphors--of being sacked.
Part of what stressed me out so much is that I didn't know how much anything cost. Literally, anything--I've always been in a lab whose lab manager handles all vendor interactions, and whenever I needed something, I just asked. Now, all of a sudden I needed to know how much everything cost, and I was paralyzed by the realization that I hadn't even a ballpark guess for most items. Did a package of 50 ml conicals cost $5? $50? $500? Got me! They always just appeared on the shelves, you see!
Panicked, I immediately booked an afternoon with our lab manager. Together we walked through the lab, entering everything we saw into a spreadsheet, after which he helped me estimate costs for the list. I then calculated how much money I'd need to throw at him in order to get him to come to New University with me, and added that to my startup as well.*
As a cross reference, I was lucky to have several very excellent new prof internet friends (you know who you are!) willing to send me their startup lists. This was immensely helpful in catching things I'd missed or hadn't thought of, like chairs, travel money, a tool box, software licenses, and lab coats. You guys rock.
One thing that I found particularly useful was to organize my startup list by technique. I thought about technique A, then wrote down everything I needed for that, then moved on to technique B, etc. There were of course other headings like "General lab supplies (e.g. gloves, graduated cylinders, etc)" and "General equipment (vortex genies, fridge/freezer etc)," as well as "Personnel" and "Animal Costs."
I also reached out to some of the faculty I'd met during my interviews to get details on animal per diems and charges for core facilities. This turned out to be a great source of insider info in general--people love giving advice, and at this stage in my career, I am a veritable advice SPONGE. Bring it. Bring the advice.
Look, the bottom line is this: the more you know about what you want/need, the better you'll be able to argue for actually getting these things. Depending on the institution, you may be able to just throw around large numbers and end up getting what you want, but it certainly can only help you to have thought through your startup as thoroughly as possible.
This seems like a good place to leave off for now--next time: convincing people to give you all the things on your startup list, a.k.a. negotiating.