Start me up

Apr 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

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. ย 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.

*I wish.

16 responses so far

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    That's great! Are you going to post the list (leaving out sensitive details, of course) so that future people can build on it and not have to repeat your efforts?

  • Anastasia says:

    Great idea, Mr. Gunn!
    I love that you're trying to get your lab manager to come with you. If I was staying in academia, I'd want to keep my current lab manager, too.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I am a HUGE fan of the spreadsheet for this task! Not only does it give you a bottom line, but you can cut and paste parts of it to give to your sales' reps to get the best deals on the stuff that you need. It also helped me prioritize what I needed to be productive 'right now' versus stuff that I can wait to buy when I really need it.

  • Wow. I'm going to start asking my lab manager how much all this stuff actually costs.

    Rolling Stones FTW.

  • NatC says:

    For when you get there...a note about Vendors and sales reps - get to know them as well as possible as soon as possible. Ask for demos, let them give their short seminars, get sample products, ask questions about stuff that you might like when you have more $$.
    Ask for discounts - most have (and will gladly offer upfront) "lab startup" discounts. If you're going to be using some expensive reagents a lot, calculate how much over the next couple of years and see if you can get bulk discounts. If you've missed a limited-time-discount, ask if they'll apply it anyway. Comparison shop and negotiate.
    Sales Reps are an AWESOME networking resource (they know who-uses-what techniques at all the local institutions) and they are your friends for reducing costs when they can - it's a win-win situation for both of you, AND you get to learn about some new/faster/more efficient/cost-saving/fun techniques.

    • Dr Becca says:

      Oh, I've already started getting to know my vendors and have signed up for the New Lab Startup programs with a few. They've mostly been super friendly and helpful--I just need to make sure I stay on top of everything and stay organized. I'm hoping my new iPad will help.

  • namnezia says:

    For negotiating I calculated big costs like large equipment, animal care, salaries, etc. Rather than sink into minutiae for supplies and small stuff, I asked my former PI how much she spent on average per person. I multiplied that number by the number of expected people and that was that.

    For starting the lab, yes, go for the very large spreadsheet and give it to at least 2 sales reps. Then bounce their prices/discounts off of each other until you get the lowest price.

  • gerty-z says:

    Putting together "the list" is a lot of work, that's for sure! When I was going through the process I spend at least a week walking around labs (I went through related labs in my PD apt.) just copying down part numbers. As a technical point, I think that you should make your start-up list for "list prices", not what your lab manager pays. You will get a discount off of list price when you actually buy, but this builds in a slight "cushion" into the startup funds. Of course, this only matters if your negotiations are very much centered on "the list", which may not be true.

    More important: make sure that you can use the actual $ for WHATEVER YOU WANT, so that you are not bound by the list you made. And also, if possible, that it doesn't expire. There are some things you can't buy with federal grant $, and startup can be very handy for these things.

    • Dr Becca says:

      Yes! Great advice Gerty, all of it. We definitely went for the list price, not institutional discount price, when putting the list together--this is how good my lab manager is.

  • Dr. O says:

    So I'm thinking you need to start a TT job advice aggregator to complement your job search aggregator. I can see myself sometime in the next few months (years) digging through your blog for this post!

    Or, of course, I could start putting one together. You do have quite a bit on your plate right now ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • My dad likes to say "Ask, and you shall receive."

    If only it was so simple.

  • HCP says:

    Depending on how your institution bills it out, you may need to consider your cut of the overhead:
    Library costs (pubs, ASTM specs and stuff)
    IT costs (not only soft/hardware, but help-desk hourly billing)
    Analytical costs from other labs/departments
    Waste/HazMat disposal
    "House" compressed gasses/vacuum

    Also, some of us old army supply sergeant types do stuff like 'bum' antifreeze from the facilities guys for our lab chillers. Being new to where ever you go, that kind of option won't be available until you get to know the system.

    Caveat - I'm industrial, not academic. So on one hand, it's all our money and we have to track it. On the other hand, it's all _our_ money and no one accuses us of mis-applying gov't funds or grants.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    Great tips! Here's a new slogan for your business cards: "Dr. Becca: Funny AND educational."

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