Dear Labby,

I have been offered an assistant professorship in a first-rate biomedical center and am very excited. The stimulating environment, the colleagues, the balance of teaching and research, and the community all seem really good and could be an excellent mix for me, my partner, and our infant. (I am a new mother!)

I am now in negotiations for the salary and start-up package. Especially after grad school and a postdoctoral fellowship, the salary looks good. Also the start-up package includes some equipment that I will need for my own lab. I will have access to excellent shared core facilities that have high-end technology and expertise. In addition to my salary, there is enough support for one or two people in my lab for three years.

I just read a report in JAMA that women PhDs in basic science departments similar to the one I plan to join get much smaller start-up packages than men who have comparable degrees and experience.

Now I have several questions. How do I find out what my salary and start-up package “should” be? How can I negotiate and avoid being viewed as unpleasantly aggressive by my new colleagues and boss? And finally, If I have enough money to do the research I propose, why should I even care if someone else is getting two or three times more than I?

—New Faculty Member

LabbyCover-230x300Dear New,

Congratulations on your successful job search. You are wise to seek information about an appropriate and realistic salary and start-up package, because both have significant long-term consequences.
Your starting salary is even more important than you may realize, because all of your subsequent raises will be based on this beginning salary as will the amount that your employer contributes to your account in the institution’s retirement program. (A $5,000 differential in annual salary, with 3% annual raises and banking the pay difference, would lead to $568,834 after 38 years of employment.) Since your job will be in a biomedical center, you can find useful data in the Report on Medical School Faculty Salaries published biennially by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). If your institution is a member of the AAMC, you may be able to access the report through your library or purchase a copy for a greatly reduced price.

As you discuss salary consider if there may be other compensations that can substitute for money, e.g., access to local and affordable daycare to make your work time most efficient. Also to support new parents, some institutions have funding to pay for people who you can direct to do some of your lab chores that are time consuming or occur in the evening or on the weekend, so you can have precious additional hours to be a parent.

Your start-up package is very important because it will have an impact on your success in competing for external funding. This will be critical to tackling your proposed research program and equally critical to the institution’s return on investment for you. So the money in the start-up package will launch your independent research.

A good place to start your investigation is by asking people who are a couple of years ahead of you what they got in their packages so you can draft your requests in line with what is “standard” for your department or discipline. Make sure you don’t limit your information gathering to one gender.
Be very specific in identifying the equipment and supplies that you will need to purchase. To get a realistic estimate of annual expenditures, talk to the person in your current lab who really knows the budget required to support the lab. And remember that to take advantage of the great core facilities, you will need to have enough money to pay the fees.

You are right to be concerned about how to negotiate. Data indicate that women can be penalized for appearing aggressive. One approach that Labby has seen work for women (and men) is to align your requests with the anticipated communal impact of your hiring, your success, and on your ability to foster the advancement of trainees. These goals are gender neutral and shouldn’t raise red flags. Your negotiation is not about making you rich. It is about your goal to answer research questions and to be competitive for external awards that will support the research. In that arena, you don’t want to be competing with people who have been given two or three times the resources you have.

Again, congratulations! Soon you will be running your own show. Enjoy the excitement and remember that your colleagues will be excellent advisors and mentors as you face the inevitable challenges that come with managing your own enterprise.