Bad Start-Up Package

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Bad Start-Up Package

Postby David Taylor » Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:04 pm

Hello Forum,

Let's say you just accepted a junior faculty position at University X. You were excited at how well things were panning out at first, but soon realized that your start-up package was just plain bad. In retrospect, you should have done your homework, thought more about your budget/resources, and really pushed during negotiations. Now, you're stuck in a situation that could severely limit your research productivity.

What should you do in this scenario?
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Re: Bad Start-Up Package

Postby Michael J. » Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:26 pm

I'm starting an Assistant Professor position this summer. I tried my best to calculate my needs ahead of time and reflect those needs in my counteroffer. However, I was not able to get the institution to budge. I fell $50,000 short of what would make me feel comfortable.

I've had to choose between getting all of the equipment I need versus a full-time employee.
I won't be able to hire a full-time technician or postdoc. However, I'll be working at an R15 eligible institution with a research focus that is less intense than my current position. The expectation is that undergraduates and masters students will play a major role in research. The university has many programs available so that students can work in lab at no cost to the investigator. Because of this, I've identified multiple roles that students can fill to run the lab with little to no experience necessary. At first, they will do the job of a technician (e.g., taking care of an insect colony, cell culture, reagents, cloning, etc.). Complicated experiments will be left to me, masters students, or advanced undergraduates.

I've also spent the last few months doing research on used equipment and alternative, more affordable protocols. I've even piloted a few new protocols in my current lab with the support from my laboratory manager who is always trying to find cheaper options.

I'll have to learn how to get by on less. I'm actually excited about this prospect. I like the idea of bringing in small grants and working with a close group of individuals, not to mention spending time at the bench... However, if I had a choice, I would opt for a well funded research program. Unfortunately, you can't be too selective when searching for a research position. There just aren't many options available in the US. Take what you can get and make it work.
Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
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Re: Bad Start-Up Package

Postby Chris » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:53 am

Interesting question, David. But friends don't let friends get into situations like this. If you're going into startup negotiations without the advice of friends who have done this before you, STOP and pick up that phone! If you have a friend in this situation, reach out to them with your advice!

THEN take Michael's advice, which is good for everyone. No start up package is perfect, so we all have to make do with what we have and find creative ways to get things done.
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Re: Bad Start-Up Package

Postby David Taylor » Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:49 am

Thanks, Michael - yours is a great example as to how to adapt to a non-ideal situation. I'm glad it's working well for you!

Very good, logical advice, Chris.

Anyone on the forum have opinions on what to key items to consider when negotiating a start-up package? Items that may often slip under folks' radars?

We may have touched on this before, but a fresh take on the subject can't hurt.
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Re: Bad Start-Up Package

Postby F.E. » Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:45 pm

I accepted my current position approximately 11 years ago and I did not do my homework nor did I listen to friendly advice from colleagues. I was too excited to get out on my own, and while it was a difficult transition, I made the best of it.

The advice I ignored:
“You shouldn’t go to university X, it is too small and it is in a State with few opportunities for collaboration”. This turned out to be true. I have had a difficult time developing collaborations; I am geographically isolated and the research interests of my colleagues (of which there are only 29) are quite disparate from my own.

“Your start-up funds are too small to set up an adequate lab”. This turned out to be somewhat true and I did as Michael is preparing to do (i.e., purchased used equipment). I was very fortunate in this regard. I found excellent used equipment that is still functioning perfectly today.

“Your new colleagues wrote that. You should call the department chair and tell them that you decided not to take the offer after all”. After accepting my position, I received an e-mail from two colleagues in the department. The first wrote me to let me know that she had heard that I did cell culture and that under no circumstances would I be allowed to use her hood or incubator. She was not certain that I was properly trained and that my aseptic technique might not be adequate. The second colleague wrote me to tell me that he had heard that we would be sharing a research technician and that he was sorry that I would not be able to use the technician because the technician was too busy doing research for him. Perhaps I could get some help in a year or so. (BTW, both of these e-mails really concerned me and I still have them today.)

The start-up package:
I was promised a lab with a particular sq. footage. When I interviewed, the lab that I was promised was occupied, but I was told that it would not be when I arrived. Well, when I arrived, the lab was still occupied. After 6 months, I complained to the dean and the dean offered a solution; a lab ¼ the size of that promised to me. I took him up on his offer because I had all sorts of equipment, reagents and supplies stacked up in my office. Also, I needed to get to work in a lab to gather preliminary data for grants.

I was promised a ½ time technician. Well, my colleague made sure that did not materialize, but made me feel good about it. Luckily, I was able to fund a technician when my grant was funded. Unfortunately, it took three years to get it funded.

I could add a few other things but lets end there.

Anyway, I made the best of the situation and I realized that it was all my fault. I did not ask the right questions during my interview, I did not insist that things I was promised be formalized in writing, I did not listen to my post-doc mentor, and I was incredibly naïve. However, it has turned out to be the best learning experience of my life. Now I am ready to move to an environment with more resources. If I can be successful here, I am confident I can be successful anywhere.
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Re: Bad Start-Up Package

Postby Peter B. » Tue Jul 23, 2013 9:41 am

I've been offered a research assistant posititon and I'm just wondering about what to consider when negotiating the start-up package, anyone have any advice here? David did you find any info on this?
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