I recently won an NSF mathematical Science Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at University 1. At this University, the math NSF postdocs have a have a much lower salary and benefits than regular "named postdocs" (XYZ Assistant Professor)and during their 2 years of half-time NSF support teach two thirds the amount (despite only half the salary coming from the university). I did not get a regular postdoc offer from Uni 1.

At the same time, I have a 3 year postdoc offer from a fancy institute at US University 2, with significantly higher salary than regular postdocs at Uni 1 (which is already much higher than NSF postdocs at Uni 1), more travel funding than the NSF MSPRF, and NO teaching unless I want to.

Research wise, Uni 1 is a better fit. Would it be reasonable for me to leverage the Uni 2 offer to perhaps convince Uni 1 to raise my salary during my NSF postdoc there to the level of their regular postdocs and maybe give me the title of a regular postdoc at Uni 1 for one or two years when I am there? Or perhaps reduction in the number of courses I have to teach? If so, does one go about it?

  • 3
    While I like the question, I would propose to make it more general. E.g., the underlying problem seems to be: "How to negotiate with University A using a better offer from University B, given that you actually want to go to A", right?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 16:18
  • 2
    Are the two universities in places with similar costs of living? If not, the salary difference might not mean a whole lot.
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 0:55
  • I think if you negotiate by leveraging a higher salary somewhere else, you need to be prepared to actually leave. Don't make empty threats. The extra salary and other pluses must be worth for you to go to the other place (taking all possible downsides of changing) if Uni 1 does not budge. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 20:01
  • @CaptainEmacs -- absolutely correct. First rule of negotiating -- you have to be willing to walk away. If you're not, and your adversary sees this, you have no real negotiating power at all, so all you can do is bluff and hope.
    – bubba
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 14:27
  • Try it and let us know what happens. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 12:34

3 Answers 3


I think that there is a difference between University 1 wanting you, and having you because you come with an NSF. That makes a huge difference in whether you can leverage for a higher salary or not.

The fact that University 1 did not offer you their regular postdoc title sounds like a hint to me that they will probably not be up for negotiation. Though, it doesn't hurt to try.


I question the "fit" with uni 1. The postdoc is a glorified teaching job, with a load that seriously compromises academic output i.e. further career prospects.

Uni 2 on the other hand seems to have everything going for it.

Without wishing to seem rude, I suspect the "fit" here consists of factors such as: partner lives in that town, want to stay there; research is same topic as PhD; really like the idea of working with academic X... Such considerations can all have some legitimacy, but they are factors young academics systematically overrate.


Yes, you can try to negotiate but be prepared for the possibility that your requests won't be met and you'll have to resort to accepting the offer from University 2.

The simplest way to start negotiations is just to write to the department chair at University 1 (possibly with a cc to the professor you are interested in working with) and to say that you are very much interested in going there (with a clear explanation why) but, "regrettably" would have to accept a better offer unless the terms are at least partially matched, then to state explicitly the terms of that better offer and stop there. Then the headache of deciding how much to upgrade the offer will be theirs and the only message you'll be sending will be that the current terms are not acceptable for you (which, from what you've said, seems to be the case anyway). The rest depends on how they respond (if they respond at all).

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