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This is probably really silly to ask, but I'd rather look silly anonymously here than look silly to my possible future department chair. I received my first offer for a position at a public university today. This is a teaching-focused position in mathematics at a public university. To be clear, it is an "instructor" position, but they want instructors with PhDs to teach upper level undergrad courses.

There is a line in the offer letter that states "You will be provided with $3,000 start-up funds during the academic year 2019-20." I have no idea what this is. I've tried searching specifically on the university website and also general google searches, but found nothing on the university site and most searches just turn up info about start-up funds of high amounts for research focused positions.

What is this money typically used for? My main question is can this be used for moving costs? Just hoping from insight from people in public institutions who may know what this is intended for in a mathematics instructor position.

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Generally, startup funds cannot be used for moving costs unless you are moving an existing lab. Even then, mixing personal belongings into your lab equipment is pushing the envelope.

It might be for buying a computer or a tablet or some teaching technology. If it is a one year position, you should expect the university to keep the technology at the end of the year. It might be for buying teaching materials and/or office supplies. Some school offices have a supply closet, others do not.

They may also realize that while your job does not include research, that you may still want to travel to a conference. They might allow travel, but they may not.

It is not unreasonable to ask what the constraints are on the money, but if the answer does not affect if you are going to take the job, you could wait until you start.

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    You are wrong about moving costs, at my department one can use startups to cover some percentage of that, not sure exactly of the details. Startups are simply an accounting tool so it’s possible in other places moving costs would be listed as a separate item or not covered at all. Another illustration of the old “academia is a big place” principle. – Dan Romik Mar 26 '19 at 20:59
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There is probably a long term expectation that you will apply for grant funding for various things, including (some or all of) research, travel, publication fees, etc. The startup is to get you started so that you aren't delayed by having to wait for your first successful grant. In some fields, for some positions, these can be quite hefty amounts, but with, also, quite hefty expectations. I would guess that it is a bit more modest for your position. Especially if it isn't a tenure track position.

You might ask, separately, for moving costs, or at least part of that.

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    The OP says it is an instructor position so probably no research and possibly a one year contract. – StrongBad Mar 26 '19 at 20:11
  • Yes, @StrongBad, that's why I said "some...". But it probably isn't a 1 year, or there wouldn't be any "start up" funding at all. Or expectations other than serving students. But even "instructors" sometimes have some research expectations, though, perhaps, of a different kind. – Buffy Mar 26 '19 at 20:15

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