Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for June, 2013

Everything is Negotiable

When I was talking to the chair of BigCityUniversity about my start up package there, he said that “everything is negotiable.” At BigCityU, you could negotiate your housing, since you had to rent from the university. I have seen BigShotProfessors negotiate their parking spots. I negotiated for HusbandOfScience to be given a tenure track position. I truly believe that anything is negotiable.  Of course, different schools are more or less accustomed to negotiating for certain items. BigCityU was used to negotiating housing, for instance. My current department had never negotiated a spousal accommodation before, but they were able to figure it out.

Some common items you can definitely negotiate:

  1. Salary for you.
  2. Equipment. It may be easier to get if multiple people can use it.
  3. Salary for people in the lab.

Some less common, yet equally important things you can negotiate:

  1. Daycare access or rank on a daycare list, especially if the university runs the daycare, and the list is long.
  2. Housing. (Number of bedrooms, location to campus, view.)
  3. Parking. (Parking location, rank on a list of parking lot.)
  4. Your spouse’s academic position. (See two-body issues in previous posts).
  5. Your spouse’s non-academic job. (Some universities can place spouses in administrative positions, or have other “non-academic” departments that they can tap into.)
  6. Your tenure clock (and you can re-negotiate later, if you need to have it longer or shorter).
  7. Your starting title. (Associate Professor without tenure? Full Professor with tenure?)
  8. The classes you will teach and the number of times you teach them before you switch. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. Getting to repeat teaching a course is the key to getting better evaluations. Three times is usually perfect to get it right. More on these ideas later in teaching-related posts.
  9. If and when you will get relief from teaching during your first 5 years (many schools do this.)
  10. Your service duties. You can specify what you won’t do, too.
  11. Other future tenure-track hires that you will get to lead, or have say in recruiting and hiring. They can actually promise to make N hires over X years in your field.
  12. Space renovations. Double check if your start-up money has to pay for it, or if the university, dean, or department is fitting the bill.
  13. Office furniture and other amenities. (Do you need a mini-fridge for pumped milk and some curtains so that people can’t see in your office? They should provide that.)
  14. Travel to conferences.
  15. Career development opportunities, such as leadership conferences. These are pretty pricey (~$10,000), so this is no small potatoes to negotiate.

I say get as many of these thing in writing as possible, too. They don’t have to be listed in the offer letter, but get a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that is signed by you, the chair, and the dean (or higher ups, if the money is coming from them). Not all these things are for a start-up either. They can be deployed for retention if you are being recruited away or are on the market.

If others have examples, please share as a comment or make a guest post.

Start Up

Let’s start with something obvious for negotiating: Your Start Up Package

When negotiating start up funds for a new position, you will likely be talking to the department chair. The chair should be your advocate with the dean and provost for these funds. He/She should want to help you succeed by getting the resources you need. Further, these are resources for the department that could be utilized by other faculty, as well, so it is in her best interest to negotiate well for you and the department.

Equipment: I recommend making a itemized dream list with equipment specified with dollar amounts. Highlight the items that are essential to your work. You cannot live without these items being right in your lab. Highlight items that could be shared as department resources. Highlight items that would be great to have nearby, but would be OK, if you had to travel to use them. Make sure they are able to be accessed freely in another department. If money is needed for these resources, ask for the money.

Space: Make a map of the lab space they are promising you. Place the equipment in the space to demonstrate how your lab will look when the renovations and installations are all done. If there is not enough room, or not what you need (a fume hood, for instance) point it out in that map. If you are given two split spaces, do it for all the space. If you are given two options, make up two to help you decide the best location.

People: Yes, you should ask for funds to pay students, technicians, postdocs, and YOURSELF! Ask for a certain number of students for a certain number of years. Ask to make sure that their tuition will be waved if you use start-up to pay. If not, you need to increase the number to pay for their stipends and their tuition. Make sure money for technicians and postdocs includes health care and other fees. Ask for summer salary for yourself, or make sure they are paying your salary (such as in a medical school) for several years before you will likely have independent funding.

Are there other items? Comment or write a guest post.

“Women Don’t Ask”

The title of this post harkens back to the classic book about negotiation skills for women. Negotiation skills are important for an academic career for more than just making sure you get a good start-up package. Daily negotiations are needed to make sure you aren’t doing too much service, taking on a terrible teaching load, or otherwise being taken advantage of. I am planning to have a couple posts on negotiating. I hope others will comment or write some guest posts about this important topic.

The Academic Game

These posts about publicity and self-promotion remind me of this idea that academic science is a “game” with specific rules and there are ways to “win” the game. Whether you like the idea of an academic career path being a “game” or not, you have to admit that there are certain unspoken rules and means to getting ahead. Despite how you feel about these rules, they are there. Your best hope is to discover the rules, and to try the best you can to follow them. I hope this blog will help some women to navigate these unspoken rules. It seems that women and minorities are often the last ones told of the rules and often only discover them when they misstep. Further, I would venture that the rules are actually different for men and women, based on a convolution of the system with the social moires of men and women. What do you think? Are there unspoken rules?

Publicity Spot #3: Novel Self-Promotion

In addition to your personal website and getting nominated and winning awards, what else can you do to get good publicity for your work and yourself? Here are a couple of good, novel ideas for getting publicity that are fun, too!

1. Cover art. Many journals allow you to submit your own artwork for the cover. If so, you should go for it. If it gets accepted, you should put that on your news page, on your publication page, and in your talks. If it doesn’t get picked, use the pretty picture in your talks anyway and on your own website. Bonus, it is fun to put together some nice images from your work for a cover.

2. Tell others. Tell your department and dean about your good news. Many departments and colleges have news items on their own webpages. Sometimes they ask you to write up the short blurb and give them an image. Good thing you made that pretty image for a cover art, right? Many universities have a new office that will write press releases about publications. You should find out who is in the press office and contact them when you have a new publication out. They  like to write press releases about publications is high profile journals like Science, Nature, and PNAS, but they will also write press releases about other new-worthy items, too. Once they write a press release, if could get picked up by local or even national media. You could get an interview on NPR!

3. Mentor well. Your students who go on to do great things after being in your lab are your legacy. Being a good mentor to them is good for them, and it is good for you. While they are still working for you, send them to conferences, have them meet with speakers, and have them attend workshops and short courses. Their good abilities will reflect well on you. Let them graduate when they are ready. (More on mentoring topics in future posts.) When they leave and continue to do well, that will reflect well on you. I know this sounds selfish, and mentoring is certainly not typically thought of in self-centered terms, but you have to admit that creating amazing new scientists is good for your career, too.

4. Spoofs. This one is not for everyone because you have to have the right attitude and the right group of students, but a really fun way to grab a little attention is to make a spoof or parody of a music video or movie with your lab. You can put it on your webpage with your cool science movies. They could go viral, but probably won’t.

I am sure I have missed a huge number of other opportunities for self-promotion. If others have more good ideas, please share as comments, or write a guest post. Hope to hear from you!

Publicity Spot #2: Awards

It’s a fact: awards matter. The department, college, university, and your senior colleagues from on and off campus notice when you win an award. It makes you more marketable to other institutions, and you are more likely to be asked to give talks.

It’s a fact: women are put up for and subsequently win fewer awards than men. It is true that there are fewer women, but they are also not thought of as frequently as men. So, you have to do some leg work to get nominated.

Women should try to win awards. In order to win, you need to get nominated. How do you go about getting nominated? I got some good advice from another WomanOfScience over a year ago. She said, if you want to be nominated for an award, just ask. I know it sounds crazy, but that is what you need to do. It takes out the inadvertent forgetfulness in the nomination process.

Who do you ask? Many departments have a awards committee. It is their job to nominate department members for awards. The problem a lot of women have is that (1) The committee often doesn’t think about woman-only awards, and (2) The committee is often not aware of awards within your specific subfield. That is why you need to tell them about the awards for which you should be nominated. You need to give them plenty of time, like 6 weeks. They will brush you off, but you need to remind them when there is 4 weeks until the due date. At the 4 week period, send to them your packet, with all the information they need and the list of the writers you recommend for them to ask. It feels weird to basically tell them what to do, but you are making it easier for them to nominate you.

If your department doesn’t have an awards committee to nominate you, ask your department chair. All the committee/chair needs to do is organize the nomination, put together the packet (which you will give them/him/her), and make it easy for the letter writers to write wonderful things about you.

Publicity Spot #1: Your Website

One of the easiest places to create and maintain your profile for self-promotion is on your webpage. I think this one is obvious, but most people don’t realize how much extra information they can put online that will go a long way to bolstering your career. I think most people have a research description, their publications list, and perhaps a CV linked online, but do you have a personal profile page? Do you have a news page that highlights the accomplishments of your group members and yourself? These pages are not just good for publicity, they are good for group morale, and let your students know that you are proud of their accomplishments.

A good way to get started is to look at the websites of your peers, colleagues, and others within your specific field. What types of pages do they have? What is the style? Is it eye-catching and attractive? These ideas may seem shallow, but if you are selling yourself and your work, it doesn’t hurt to look nice and professional. Make sure your links to and from your website work and are up-to-date. Always update as soon as you publish any papers. If you should update your CV, you should update your website. Don’t wait! News items include: publishing a paper, student poster prizes, awards for you or other lab members. Having a short news feed on the very front page is also a good idea. It can have short highlights of the most recent news items and a link to the main News page that has all the news.

I know that this takes time, but this is worth it. Plus, like anything else, you will get faster with practice. Having a nice website can be a spring board invitations to give talks and serve on panels – essential components to any academic science career.

Publicity Whore: Self-Promotion

I am a proficient publicity whore. That is a comedic and eye-catching way to say that I am good at self-promotion. Yes, sometimes it feels weird. Like recently, when my face was on the university’s front webpage (revolving). But, self-promotion is important for your career. Women typically don’t do this enough. It may be even more important, since the first assumption is that women are less competent than their male counterparts. Further, if you don’t do it, who will do it for you? Maybe you are lucky with a proactive department, but I think the norm is for everyone to be busy. So, I will have a couple of posts about different ways to self-promote. I understand that not all ways work for all people, but maybe a few will be interesting for you to try.

Two-Body Solutions Bring More Problems?

This was a comment left by another WomanOfScience. I decided to repost to share with all. Enjoy!

Hello, WomanOfScience, this is your friend SeniorTrailingSpouse. I am not sure I like this name! I made up another one, below. For those of you who could not glean from my given name, my husband and I are both academics in science/engineering. We were apart for several years, during which time I had two babies and raised them up to school-age and almost-school-age largely on my own. After lots of looking, drama, negotiation with both institutions, we are now together at his institution.

I have so much to say on the Two Body Problem that I am not sure where to start. I will get around to writing the guest posts I have promised you, WOS. However, today in particular I am struggling with something, and I thought I should pose the comment/question to you and hopefully your blogosphere.

If you are lucky enough to have the Two Body Problem solved, how to then balance both of your ambitions? Suppose we both have the opportunity to submit (different) big grants, both with deadlines around the same time. Our own individual research programs are fine in terms of funding, so working on these grants would be a choice. These are both large-scale proposals that actually won’t give us much money directly, but are great for the institution and would be high-profile wins in terms of reputation if we get them.

But we are tired, and we want to spend some time with the kids this summer, now that we are finally together as a family. One of us could definitely work on a proposal like this while still leaving us collectively with enough “family time,” I think. But if we both choose to work on proposals like this, it will mean a lot of craziness this summer. So which one of us “leans back?”

Strangely, I never thought about this much when I was living apart from my husband, even though I was solely responsible for the kids during this time. My ambition was really only limited by what I could physically handle. Kids were in daycare a lot. If I had a big deadline, I hired extra babysitting help. If a particular project required consistently working after-hours, well — I couldn’t do it, or rather I was not willing to be away from the kids more often than I already was. Similarly, for travel, if I was invited to give a talk domestically, well fine. I made these trips as short as possible and cobbled together some solution — leave the kids with grandparents, bring Grandma along on a business trip with me, find a daycare in the area willing to do drop-in care. But if I was invited for an international trip — no, sorry, I could not manage this. (Saying no to these kind of trips was a choice, but again it was more than I felt I could handle at the time — I do know a single academic mom who did manage to take her daughter on international trips).

Now, living with my husband means I have more choices. He can of course watch them if I have to work late or if I am out of town. But when we both need to work, how do we balance this? I don’t want to just hire babysitters a lot so that we can both work like crazy — then our life wouldn’t be all that different than what we had before, honestly. It defeats the purpose of living together!

On a mostly separate note, I think work-life issues are one area where more senior women in science can benefit from mentoring from younger women. Mentoring does not have to go one-way, only from senior women to junior women. The culture has changed dramatically in the time that I’ve been in academia — negotiating for a position for your spouse was unheard of when I started. I think younger women have a better idea of how to navigate and negotiate issues around this than senior women do.

Tag Cloud