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In the United States, are the startup packages offered for tenure-track positions at research universities typically significantly different for the assistant and associate professor levels?

Background: I am a researcher in computer science considering moving from an industrial position to a university tenure track position. I have recently received an offer for a tenure-track position at the associate professor level (expected, given my career position).

The startup package being offered seems rather weak to me, however, particularly comparing it against a startup package that I know was offered to another person who recently entered this department in a similar position but at the assistant professor level.

Is it typical for a new associate professor to be offered a much smaller startup package than a new assistant professor (perhaps on the theory that they are already established in their career), or is the university giving me a weak offer?

  • 2
    The startup package is usually determined by what your dept. chair can convince the dean to go along with. If they just got a large startup package for another hire then the admin might just be tightening the belt, or they might just have different expectations. If you think the startup package is insufficient for what they/you would like to accomplish then talk to the chair or search committee. "I don't see how I can do XYZ without two grad students for 4 years." Give the chair/committee good reasons to go ask the dean for more and see what they say. – David May 19 '17 at 2:51
  • You should negotiate. Usually the chair can help you negotiate. – Anonymous Physicist May 19 '17 at 4:39
  • If you want to hear actual numbers, those are very much dependent on your field, too. – Greg May 19 '17 at 5:08
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    I have clarified that my field is computer science. I also recognize that I should negotiate, and am planning to do so. My question is specifically about the baseline, in order to help formulate my arguments in negotiation: is it typical for associate professor offers to have smaller, larger, or the same size startup packages as assistant professor offers? – Associate Professor Candidate May 19 '17 at 12:47
  • Please specify what sorts of features you were hoping to see in the startup package. – aparente001 May 20 '17 at 21:17
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Your explicit question

Your question is about the statistics of startup offers to Associate versus Assistant Professors. I don't know if there's a resource that's able to answer that in detail, in general, across universities. The only Associate Professor startup package that I know of was indeed lower than most Assistant Professor packages, but I'm not in computer science, this Associate was bringing their own grant money, and N=1!

Your implicit question

However, it sounds like you're trying to use this data to make inferences about whether or not the university is giving you a "weak offer", and to use that information to set your negotiating strategy.

Don't.

This is a bad idea, for a couple of reasons.

A "weak offer" is not interpretable.

Let's say the university is making you a weak offer. Normally they'd offer $X, but for you, they're offering $2/3X. Uh oh! What does this mean?

  • They're not really all that excited about you. Sure, they'll hire you, but you were the best of a bad bunch. Not worth throwing money at.
  • These are hard financial times. The new budget is much tighter than previous years, and there are hard limits on what they can afford.
  • They don't understand your needs. Of course their previous hire, the robotics specialist, needed a lot of startup. But you, you work on computability theory, all you need is a pencil and a notebook, no problem!
  • It is a lowball offer, but it's flexible if you negotiate hard. The other hires were given similar offers, but negotiated hard and raised it fine.
  • Any combination of the above.

So, even if you did have an answer to your initial question, then you are left with even more questions.

Your startup needs are independent

Your startup needs are not dictated by what other people have been offered. Whether or not you need item X or software Y to succeed in this position cannot be determined by comparing your number to other people's numbers. This is a common problem in startup considerations, where the thinking is backwards.

Start with what you will need (and be generous, it's always good to have a little wiggle room). Come up with a budget to calculate what you would need to succeed, obtain grants, and really flourish. Share that itemized budget with your university contact. If the number is way off the number they are offering you, reflect on what is needed and what is flexible, and reflect on what is your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. That is, are you able to say "no" to them and walk away? Do you have other options? Can you maybe get away with using some cheaper equipment? Can you be creative with the startup, for example having it spread over several years (that way the capital outlay for the university is lower)? There are lots of options. Remember, the university has made you an offer because they want you. It is in their interests for you to succeed at your job and to flourish, so it is in their interests to ensure that you receive an adequate startup package.

Good luck!

  • +1 for the startup needs being independent. This is not part of your salary. This is literally money to help you start. Do you need a lot for your research? Do you need a little? This will vary heavily by researcher - for example, in my field, whether or not you need a wet lab. – Fomite May 19 '17 at 20:54
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Your startup package is negotiable, to some extent. In addition to the fine answers I'm sure you'll get, my advice would be to assess whether your startup offer is sufficient to launch a successful career. If it flat-out isn't, you need to hold out for a package that is. Don't accept a position where you don't see the resources you need to be successful, or at the very least, a good plan to get them.

If you don't see what you need, you can continue to negotiate for more. There are sometimes more creative solutions available, such as talking to your prospective chair about common or shared resources that would be made available to you, pre-arranged collaborations that could help you get started quicker .....

If you can be successful with the offered package, but you still don't feel like its big enough, you've got some thinking to do, but it will come down to a decision you make using data we don't have access to, like how bad you want the job, what other possible offers are in the wings, opportunities for your spouse, and other squishier stuff.

As to associate vs assistant packages, that's tougher. Recruited Associates often may be coming in with some of their own resources, and aren't starting from scratch. They've also demonstrated that they're less of a risk on the way in, and might be worth an additional investment.

  • I am afraid that this does not really answer my question. Only the last paragraph actually addresses my question, and it mostly just puts forth the same two possible arguments that I have identified. Do you have any knowledge or experience regarding offers actually made to associate professors? – Associate Professor Candidate May 19 '17 at 14:46
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    @AssociateProfessorCandidate In some ways, he is answering your question, which is "These packages aren't fixed in a meaningful way." – Fomite May 19 '17 at 20:52

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