Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for June, 2013


One of the WomenOfScience who follows this blog asked for some posts about mentoring. So, we are going to have a few posts on mentoring students of all levels, mentoring your peers, and mentoring on the fly. I think there is a stereotype that women are somehow innately good mentors. I can assure you, that is not the case. Further, why should women be better mentors than men innately? If everyone thinks that, then the bar will be set higher for women mentors than male mentors. Frankly, I think the bar is higher for women mentors than men, yet why should it be? Women are not innate mentors any more than we are innate moms. As a mom, I can tell you that we are not innate at motherhood. Mentoring and mothering are learned skill sets, and we will discuss some strategies for success in mentoring.

Why Don’t Women Ask?

Although this is a little off topic for how and what to negotiate, I think it is worth some time to ask ourselves, “Why don’t we ask for more?” Seeing how well my daughter innately negotiates, I think the reason is that society trains women that it is improper to negotiate or even to ask for what you really want and need. We are trained to be quiet, good, and to make do with what we are given. Sometimes, this is definitely called for. Sometimes, you need to make do. But, doing this too often makes us complacent and gets us out of practice for negotiating when we need to.

This reminds me also of self-promotion. It is also improper to self-promote. It is trained out of us. But, like negotiating, it is essential to success in academic science. Perhaps also it seems a bit mean to self-promote, but propping yourself up is not synonymous with putting others down. In fact, self-promotion and good negotiating can have positive impacts on your department (more money to go around, more prestige, higher impact, better students).

When we are feeling weird about these things, try to remember the positive impacts they have not only for you, but for the people in your lab and department. By putting these actions into positive context with others, we can break through the self-imposed barrier on these crucial skills.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing negotiating and having bargaining chips ready are important so that you are prepared when an opportunity to negotiate comes up.

Practice is easy, especially if you have children. They seem to be born negotiators. Don’t view the task of trying to convince them to eat their veggies as a chore. See it as practice negotiating. Think of a compromise solution that is moderate. Neither of you will get exactly what you want, but you will both get something and both give something.

Anticipate what the other party will want, but don’t start there. Start high, so that you have some room to work down. If your child wants to eat zero veggies, but you want her to eat 5 carrots, start with 10.

Have your bargaining chips ready. If you are asked to do something heinous, make sure you have something already pre-loaded that you can ask for in return for the favor of doing the crap work. For the child example, the child could request a dessert, if she eats all 10 carrots, as requested. That would be good forethought on the child’s part, and she would be eating all her carrots. You wouldn’t mind giving her the dessert after 10 carrots.

Obviously, there are other examples that don’t include kids, so please share. The point is to see the negotiating potential in all situations, and to practice your skills. It will eventually become second nature.

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?

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