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I am an internal candidate for a tenure-track position at a major university in northern Europe. I think I have an excellent chance, however I am slightly worried about negotiating a startup packages. Here's why:

  1. My department chief has insisted that I ask for my own salary in funding applications. This seems crazy to me - why would a funding agency justify paying the salary of a PI in a tenure-track position?!
  2. As far as I can tell, no other recent tenure-track hires in the department received any startup funding, or equivalent funding for PhDs or postdocs. Whether this was because they did not ask I do not know.

I have a strong impression from colleagues that I am the favoured candidate, and I am sure that, to some extent, asking for startup funding would make me look ungrateful for the opportunity. On the other hand, I cannot conceive how the department might a) expect to be internationally competitive if it does not provide incentives to new hires, and b) expect these new hires to achieve anything useful without any resources whatsoever.

Is this standard practice? Should I try to squeeze blood from the stone?

Many thanks!

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    For 1.: do you mean that if you were not able to secure funding, you would have no salary, or rather that receiving funding towards your own position would free up departemental resources for use elsewhere? – Pieter Naaijkens Jan 18 '17 at 20:51
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    Could you specify anything about the general field? What is normal in the humanities can often be considered horrendous in technology, and the startup packages of new hires in math is likely very different than medicine. – BrianH Jan 18 '17 at 20:51
  • Note that in some countries there are no startup funds for new tenures or tenure-tracks, or almost none. You are supposed to "bootstrap". – Massimo Ortolano Jan 18 '17 at 20:54
  • PieterNaaijkens: I mean the latter - the department provides a "safety net" salary, which I should replace by external grant funding. BrianDHall: Fair question! I work in natural science. MassimoOrtolano: "Bootstrapping" is probably the best word for it! – StoneSqueezer Jan 18 '17 at 22:16
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    Do not worry about appearing ungrateful. I repeat: do not worry about appearing ungrateful, that would be a rookie mistake. You are (or soon will be) in a negotiation situation, so do not feel any qualms about negotiating to seek the maximum career and personal advantage for yourself (which is precisely what your counterparty will be doing), pure and simple. Use any possible leverage you have: competing offers from other universities, competing offers from industry, creating a credible impression that you are considering leaving academia to become a fisherman in Alaska, etc. Good luck! – Dan Romik Jan 18 '17 at 23:11
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In my field (biological sciences, US), receiving no startup funding at all (at least for lab space and basic equipment) would be unusual. Maybe I could see a case where departmental overhead is sufficient to start a lab but I would still think of this as "startup money" even if established professors have access to the same pool.

However, asking funding agencies to pay your salary would be the usual course of business and the expectation by the funding agencies is that they would cover the portion of your salary corresponding to your effort towards the project: if the project is going to be about half of your work, it would pay at least half your salary.

If you have a gap in extramural funding, the expectation is that the institution would pick up your salary in the meantime, though this may come with other institutional responsibilities attached like an increased teaching load or some administrative work, especially if you have more than a brief interval without outside funding. I would be greatly worried if the institution isn't willing to contribute in this circumstance, but it is reasonable for them to ask for you to look outside for funding.

Funding for students in my field would also typically come from extramural grants: you would ask in a grant proposal that the work fund a graduate student to complete the experiments. Direct departmental support for students to do research is uncommon, but they may be supported by other external fellowships such as institutional training grants or grants directly to that student, or through a teaching or project assistantship through the department.

On a side note, I could see the situation for startup funding being a little different as an internal candidate, that is, if the institution is expecting you to continue working in the lab space you are in (i.e., if you are a postdoc or scientist, taking over some space from your current PI) and grow your independence over time.

  • Thanks for the reply! It really is a huge relief to hear first-hand experiences from others. I've no issue asking for student funding from grants down the track, however the grant cycle (submission, review, commencement) is about 12 months, which is a long time to survive without any helping hands. Your point about my situation as an internal candidate is interesting and not one I had considered - I hope to be independent from my PI, but I am not sure what the department has in mind. – StoneSqueezer Jan 18 '17 at 22:23
  • @StoneSqueezer It is totally acceptable for you to ask the department what they have in mind, by the way. In my opinion, the interview process at all levels, whether grad students, jobs of any sort, and even the tenure track, should always be two-directional. Certainly there is extra pressure with tenure track jobs because of their rarity, but the last thing you want to do is limp into a position in a department you aren't on the same page with, that will make the tenure process a nightmare. – Bryan Krause Jan 18 '17 at 22:27
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There is a lot of variability in academia. Further, Europe is a big place. This means that generalizing in difficult. I used to work in a STEM department at a UK university.

Typically, UK and EU grants do not cover salary of permanent faculty, while fellowships, which cover salary, are only available to non-permanent staff. My former department used to hire assistant professors on an odd split contract to make them eligible for fellowships while providing them job security. Basically, they were given a 3 year fixed-term contract starting immediately and a permanent contract starting immediately following the fixed-term contract. So, it does not seem so surprising to me that a department would expect new faculty to apply for grants to cover their salary.

My department also tended not to guarantee startup funding. Decisions about departmental studentships and post doc fellowships were made on a candidate-by-candidate basis. We were not supposed to consider the faculty mentor in the decision. New faculty, could often obtain support for a student or two. Lab space was guaranteed and renovations (and some equipment) would be provided. The faculty member, however, was not given a budget for this.

As for some of your questions about how the department might

expect to be internationally competitive if it does not provide incentives to new hires

This really depends on the competition and what other universities are providing. At least in the UK, the speed of the job search, coupled with its competitiveness, makes it unlikely the applicant can negotiate from a position of power. Couple this with the personality of Brits, and departments do not need to offer much to get the best person available.

expect these new hires to achieve anything useful without any resources whatsoever

Again, in the UK, expectations of new hires are fairly mundane. The UK is driven by the REF which requires something like 4 good papers over a 6 year period. New hires can often get a reduction in the number of papers.

Should I try to squeeze blood from the stone?

You should talk (not negotiate) with the department chair or a trusted colleague in the department. They are the ones who are going to know the specifics of the department and the search in particular.

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