This is the eighth and final post in my “Get a job, Ken!” series. In this post I’ll talk about what follows job interviews: job offers, second visits, the negotiation process, and signing the contract.
The Job Offer
After each interview I was given an approximate timeline for the committee’s decision. Once that timeline ran out, every phone call I received triggered excitement and stress. I highly recommend programming the department or search committee chairs’ phone numbers into your address book so you can quickly identify their calls. Otherwise, you risk dealing with the telemarketer debacle I mentioned in my previous post. When ‘The Call’ finally came the first fifteen seconds of introductions and casual niceties were a never-ending blur. After the reveal— “we are excited to offer you a position in the department of chemistry at U of X!” —it took me at least five minutes before I felt anything. That’s when an ongoing mix of emotions began. These feelings oscillate between euphoria, panic and dumbstruck wonder.
On the other hand, ‘The Call’ can also hypothetically be a rejection. I did get rejections. Yet, my rejections never came in the form of a phone call. If I hadn’t yet heard anything from the search committee several weeks after the decision deadline, I’d email the chair inquiring about the status of the search. It was only then, through email, that I’d learn another candidate received the offer. Maybe they were waiting to tell me after the other person accepted and I was potentially the fallback candidate. Alternatively—as I’ve heard told by others—there might not have been a plan to notify me at all. I could have been left to learn about the decision through the grapevine. After facing this void of search-committee silence, I’ve made a vow: if I am ever on a hiring committee, I will make sure to give a courtesy phone call or email to candidates not offered the job.
When I did receive an offer, it was quickly followed with an invitation for a second visit. The trip—which usually lasts at least three days and occurs within a month of the offer—is an opportunity for the department to convince their top candidate (and his or her significant other) to take the position. For the candidate it’s an opportunity to get a better feel for the department, university, and surrounding city. The second visit will vary from university to university, but below I try to paint a general picture of the visit based on my own and others experiences.
Day 1: Meetings and Dinner with Faculty
Prior to my second visit I was asked if there were any specific meetings I would like to schedule. I used this opportunity to request meetings with people who would be important to my future in the department, such as the staff laser spectroscopist, the glassblower, and potential faculty collaborators/mentors. I met with these individuals (as availability allowed) as well as 6-7 additional faculty during the first day of my second visit. The day’s schedule was similar to the 30-minute meeting marathon during the interview, but significantly less stressful. The most exciting part of the day was a tour of lab spaces my group could potentially occupy. The most important meeting of the day was with the department chair, during which we started the negotiation process. To prepare for this meeting the department chair asked me to create a space and budget proposal, which served as the starting point for our discussion. I’ll talk about the negotiation process as well as the space and budget proposals in much greater detail below.
That evening the chemistry department also hosted a welcome dinner for my wife and me at one of the faculty member’s homes. It was a friendly and less formal chance to interact with my potential co-workers outside of the university.
Day 2: House Hunting and Dinner with Faculty
On the second day the department set my wife and I up with a realtor to look at and discuss the local housing market. While I had no plans to purchase a house without first living in and experiencing a city for at least six months, it was a useful way to learn about the town and to imagine ourselves living there. The realtor also provided a non-‘academic’ perspective of the town and university.
That evening we also had dinner with a few faculty and their significant others. Although this did not happen for us, this evening might also include “court-side seats” to a sporting event depending on the season.
Day 3: Free day
During our third and final full day my wife and I were able to do whatever we wished. Throughout the visit we collected a number of recommendations to popular local attractions. For example, in Tallahassee we were encouraged to visit Wakulla Springs and St. George Island.
Things to consider/ask during this visit:
One of the most important factors in my decision to accept or decline the offer was how well I fit in the department. I had heard that term fit a dozen times prior and I have mentioned it throughout this blog series, but I have not really defined it. It’s hard to define because it’s many things: How do faculty members generally dress (casual or formal)? What are their attitudes towards teaching? Do they collaborate? Was I interested in the seminar speakers they brought in? Were my one-on-one meetings reciprocal? Are there people there who will understand my research and vice versa? These are just a few of the many fit related questions I asked myself.
Thankfully, many of these fit questions were already answered by the time I got an offer. The interview process provided an opportunity to size up a department’s culture and whether or not I felt like I’d fit in. Likewise, having given me an offer, the department clearly liked my research, felt I fulfilled their needs, and could see me as their co-worker. I hate myself for being cliché but when you find the right fit, you will know. At least that is what I found during my visits at FSU.
Here is a list of other questions/considerations when reflecting on the chemistry department:
- Do they have the resources you need for your research: machine shop, glass blower, electronic shops, NMR, mass spectrometer, etc.?
- How do they handle purchasing and grant submitting?
- Do they have new faculty orientation?
- Are there seminars about teaching/mentoring?
- Are there clear tenure requirements?
- Are the faculty priorities clearly defined (percent of time dedicated to teaching, research, outreach, departmental duties)?
- Is there a strong sense of community?
- Is the department collegial (do most faculty get along)?
- Do assistant professors receive feedback prior to the tenure decision?
- Is there sufficient journal access?
- How many dedicated support staff are there?
- Are there sufficient teaching assistants?
- Are assistant professors assigned formal mentors or do they get to choose?
- Are there single or multiple mentors?
- How do they handle patents?
- How do they handle in department conflicts?
Also, here are some things to consider about life outside of the lab/classroom:
- Do they support work-life integration?
- Are their child care services?
- What are their policies on maternity/paternity leave?
- How is the quality of life in town (safety, cost of living, commute time, pace)?
- How family-friendly is the University/town?
- Does the town/area support your hobbies?
- Will your significant other have job prospects?
- What is the quality of the school system?
- Can you handle the weather?
I stole most of these questions from Success on the Tenure Track: Five Keys to Faculty Job Satisfaction. It is a book dedicated to assessing, based on survey of faculty at major universities, what factors are responsible for the happiest and most successful new faculty.
The majority of the negotiation occurred during my meeting with the department chair. Much to my pleasant surprise, the negotiation process was less somber and stressful than I expected. As I mentioned before, the department chair ask me to bring a space and budget proposal to the meeting. The proposals served as a starting point for our negotiations. Here’s an overview of what I included in each:
This proposal outlined the space I would need (including square footage and type of space) during my first five years conducting research. For example, I asked for 600 sq ft of synthetic space with at least four 6ft fume hoods and 400 sq ft of empty space for optical tables.
Budget proposals vary from chemist to chemist since they are very dependent on discipline and proposed research. Here’s an overview of the strategy I used when preparing my budget proposal:
1) I first read through my research proposals and made note of what equipment I would need to pursue my projects. I then walked through my current lab space (and a few other labs) adding any additional equipment I missed in my first draft.
2) I partitioned the equipment into several funding categories:
- Major equipment (>$50,000): Fluorometer, nanosecond transient absorption system, etc.
- Minor equipment ($5,000-$50,000): Potentiostat, UV-Vis, rotary evaporator, glove box, etc.
- Other equipment (<$5,000): Balances, ovens, fridges, freezers, centrifuges, etc.
- Benches/Hoods (~$10,000/hood): Schlenk line, vacuum, hotplate/stirrer, glassware, etc.
- General laboratory materials, supplies and consumables (~$150,000)
- Travel funds (~$10,000): For me, postdocs and graduate students to travel to conferences
- Computing supplies (~$10,000): computers, printers, scanners and software (this can be surprisingly expensive)
3) I then created an excel spreadsheet, listing each item, its cost, and quantity. The more detailed the list, the easier it was to justify the grand total (as displayed at the bottom of the spreadsheet).
4) There was one additional category which included my summer salary (1/3 of the yearly salary) as well as the salaries of research assistants. It is not necessarily possible to know preemptively how much a grad student or postdoc will cost per year at a given university, so I assumed they were ~$40,000 per year.
5) I then sent the excel file to the department chair in preparation for our negotiation meeting.
Quick tip 1: Ask for example budget proposals from friends or young professors in your current department.
Quick tip 2: Get multiple quotes for any equipment costing more than $5000, but only include one quote, whichever you prefer, for each instrument in the budget proposal.
Quick tip 3: You do not have to pursue the projects you proposed. If you do plan to pursue alternate projects, budget accordingly. However, you will have to justify your proposed budget to the department chair, who must in turn justify it to the ‘higher ups’.
Quick tip 4: If you don’t ask, you won’t get it! So make sure to include anything that you might need.
In addition to the budget (your start-up funds) and lab space, below are several major items that can also be included in the negotiation (which is also institution dependent):
- Lab/Office Location
- Salary: Negotiation in this area is less likely at public schools where the salary is usually decided by some predetermined metric. Interestingly, you can find faculty salaries for most public institutions online.
- Teaching Load: This may already be decided. Also, most assistant professors are given a choice of two semesters off during their first five years.
- Departmental responsibilities (committees, curriculum development, etc.)
- Employment for your significant other.
Prior to the second visit, the department chair looked through my budget proposal and noted major and minor equipment already available in the department. I was happy to learn that some of the equipment was already available and operational (cutting down on my start-up time). Other equipment, while available, was heavily used by other research groups. For these items—which were pivotal to my research and would be frequently used—I requested funds to purchase my own instrument so as not to impede progress.
The chair also looked through my space proposal and gave me a tour the potential spaces. It was fun to actually walk through them and consider how the space would fit my needs. Some of the spaces were new, others needed renovation. The to-be-renovated spaces were appealing because I could design the lab according to my needs, but I have heard too many horror stories of renovations extending way beyond the projected timeline. I opted out of these spaces as losing the first 6 months (10% of tenure) could prove devastating.
After the initial discussion and the second visit, the chair and I went back and forth revising my budget and space needs until we converged on what would be the final offer.
While the process occasionally felt daunting, I reminded myself that, unlike a used car sales person, the department chair was not “out to get” me. University’s make a major investment in new assistant professors. It’s in their best interest to provide the tools necessary for their success. At the same time, I also aimed to be reasonable. If there was a piece of equipment I wanted, but wouldn’t use very often and could access elsewhere, I didn’t insist on having my own.
I also never forgot that I was potentially going to be working with this ‘opponent’ for the next decade or two. Nobody wants to start out a long-term relationship on a bad note.
Before entering the negotiation process I was struck by the realization that I was going from years of making a little more than minimum wage to negotiating a million dollar contract. I also realized that I’d spent more time (by orders of magnitude) researching a single chemistry paper than on how to negotiate. Coincidentally, I ran into a professor that teaches a class on negotiation and he recommended the following books:
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
- Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People
- Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change
I really enjoyed reading “Getting to Yes.” If I am going to be perfectly honest, most of what I read was not necessary for my startup negotiation. However, the book did help make me more confident about the process. Worst case scenario, I learned tools that can be used in other scenarios like dealing with street vendors or purchasing a house.
Signing The Contract
After the dust settled and I felt like all my questions were answered, I was sent a contract. It contained detailed information on my salary, lab space, teaching load and other university responsibilities. I then made everything official by signing and returning the contract.
Bonus: If you accept the offer early enough you can attend graduate student recruiting weekends. These weekends are great because it is an opportunity to recruit students to the university and your research group.
That’s it! This post concludes my “Get a job, Ken!” series. It’s been a long journey, for both the job search and documenting the process in these posts. I hope that you found at least some of the content useful. Also, please remember that this is only one person’s limited perspective. Get advice from as many people as possible.
Good luck to everyone in their job search! If any of this helps you or you have an anecdote to share, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.