Career Development for Graduate School Students

Salary Evaluation and Negotiation: Academic

Understanding the Process


Academic tenure-track
job offers in the U.S. may include any combination of salary, benefits, start-up costs, teaching release, and summer support. The degree of negotiating room you have varies by institution. For universities abroad, look into negotiation expectations and practices in that culture.  Non-tenure track positions (post-doc, lecturer, visiting professor) typically include only salary and hiring department do not negotiate on these offers.

A good way to begin this sensitive discussion is: “Could you tell me if any part of this offer is negotiable?” If the response if “no,” then do not negotiate. However, if they leave the door open for discussion, then proceed:

  • Salary: negotiation must be empirically based, not just “Because I want to make more money.”  Do your research—public university salaries are often available online (e.g., Tennessee Board of Regents). If your offer is from a private institution, knowing the salaries of nearby public universities offers an approximation of higher education salaries in the region. Also, if you have a higher offer from University #1, it is okay to ask University #2 if they can meet it.  When asking for a higher salary, be reasonable. If you seem unrealistic, the department may rethink your fit for the university and the department. Keep in mind that budget concerns have limited the negotiating options in recent years.
  • Benefits/Relocation Assistance: usually non-negotiable. However, it is helpful to know the out-of-pocket health care premiums, as well as the pension/retirement account structure. Ask to speak with a Human Resources staff member for these kinds of questions.
  • Start-up costs: may include graduate assistant support, computer programs, equipment—whatever it will take to get your research off the ground. Ask for the maximum you think it will take. They will typically want to do as much as possible to help you get a solid start. Consult with faculty members in your department as to what constitutes a reasonable request in your discipline.
  • Miscellaneous items: lab space, teaching release, summer support. Lab space—you determine what kind of space will be needed for your research.  Teaching release—could request a reduction of one course in the first or second year to concentrate on establishing your research. Summer support may enable you to keep a GA on over the summer to help with research.

The department chair may initially ask for your start-up costs, then put  the package together. You then examine each item, and request any changes (ask your faculty mentors for input at this stage).  The hiring department will then make a final offer, and you will decide whether or not to accept it. The negotiation is over.

Once you accept an offer, and it is signed by you and the hiring department, you should remove yourself from other job searches. The hiring department does not continue to interview candidates for the position you have accepted—you are expected to not continue interviewing for other positions. It is better to ask for additional time to decide, if you have another interview scheduled, than it is to accept and then renege on an offer.

Article: A Dean’s Take On Salary Negotiation (Chronicle of Higher Education)

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