Depositphotos_ContractAgreement“What kind of start up budget were you thinking of?“, says the department chair, looking at you from across her desk.

That’s when your heart starts to race and you start to sweat. It’s something that you haven’t really had to deal with during your postdoc training. Until now.

You try to stay calm and confident, but your mind is racing. The stakes are high. You want to make sure that you’re getting the best start up offer, but you don’t want to appear overzealous. You think about all of the conflicting suggestions and advice from your mentors, colleagues and friends. “Oh, no!” you think, “my response can mean getting everything I need, or nothing at all.”

You feel the adrenaline pumping as you look across the table. The department chair is waiting for your response. What do you say?

This situation is all too familiar during any negotiation where the perceived stakes are high. However, a lot of these fears can be alleviated through knowledge.

While there are a lot of documented research articles on the art and strategy of negotiations, the actual test to these theories resides in your choices. Each situation is different. However, you can leverage these strategies by being clear about your career objectives.

To ensure your research success, here are 5 strategic steps to ensure that you receive the best start up award. These strategies are adopted through our own client work, and from the work of principal negotiating experts, Roger Fisher from Harvard School of Law and Seth Freeman from Stern & Columbia University.

    1. Develop a resource budget.
      First and foremost, start out with a resource budget list. Identify resources first before assigning prices. This will ensure that you’re focused on the materials and tools important to your science, rather than the cost of it.
      Money has direct psychological effects on decision making. Therefore, try to direct negotiating conversation toward tangible resources rather than bottom line financial costs.
      Example language:
      “Here’s a working list of my preferred resources. I’m confident this is what I will need.“
      “The prices are just for reference. But, I’m more interested in getting access to the equipment.”
      “We can discuss what the most critical items on the list are.”
    2. Work toward a win-win situation.
      Always assume positive intent from the dean/chair/ hiring committee. These are your future collaborators and colleagues. They’re there to help you to be successful. However, they too have a budget to work with. They’ll be looking at you as an investment. Ensure them about the viability of that investment. Always look for mutually beneficial solutions.
      Example language:
      “I really enjoy working with this group. They’ll help me to publish on this aim, and I can apply for grants against that data.“
      “There’s a couple of labs here that I could easily collaborate with to get a great high profile story. It’d make for a great group project grant.”
    3. Identify the department/ institute’s interests.
      What is the institute or department lacking? Thoroughly research the institute’s strengths and weaknesses, along with all of the participating colleagues and members. Think about your own personal network, and of their expertise. What knowledge and strengths can you bring to the discussion?
      “I noticed that there’s a rate limiting experimental procedure. I have a colleague that could help do it faster and cheaper.”
      You may be able to provide an expertise that they may lack. Your skills can help to reach their own goals.
    4. Consider this a collaborative process.
      Be collaborative. Bring the selection committee in on the discussion by asking them about their ideas. If there are specific disagreements, suggest alternatives that work toward a solution.
      “If I can’t purchase this equipment, do you have discounts on core costs?”
      “I know this is at the high end of your offer, but are there items on this list that you can see eliminating?”
    5. Consider alternate choices.
      What’s your BATNA? (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.) Essentially, it’s the old saying; “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” The best way to negotiate is to have a plan B. This will enable you to confidently walk away from a negotiation or seek other avenues to reach your research goals.
      Are you negotiating another offer from another institute?
      Can you pursue the same research object through entrepreneurial ventures, or collaborations?

Negotiations are never easy at first, but taking it slow helps. Being clear and focused on your ultimate research goals will ensure that you’ll be taking strategic measures toward achieving them.

Therefore, preparation is key. Try to adjust your mindset toward positive negotiations. You’ll come off more confidently about your decisions and ultimately in your response to the question of “how much?”

Do you have a story about a successful or unsuccessful negotiation? What did you learn? Share with us by leaving a comment below.

Do you need help negotiating your start up award? Reach out to us. We can help.

Happy Sciencing,

* Further resources on academic negotiations can be found at NIH’s Office of Intramural Training & Education.