Saturday, April 12, 2014

Salary negotiations for K99 and R00 awardees

You now have you K99/R00 award from the NIH, but what are you going to do with it? April is negotiation time and I have been speaking with multiple friends dealing with job offers. Through the years I have collected information from multiple K99 recipients and gone through my own negotiations and learned a few things.

How much you get out of it depends on how much you can push your bosses. When negotiating I was advised to push as much as I could and back off only when you get the feeling that you have reached a limit. You must absolutely get what you need to do your work, but then there may still be things that you want which would make your life easier. So you must get what you need and keep trying to get what you want.

When you get your K99, if you are not already a Staff Scientist/Instructor, you should ask for a promotion which comes with a salary increase. As a PhD at this point you should be making between $60-80,000 depending on the salary structure at your institution. The decision may be yours in relation to how much you want to pay yourself. You may need more money if you have expensive child-care and a mortgage and should clearly state this to your boss or you may decide to funnel more money into the supply budget and keep your salary lower.

- No salary support from K99: I talked to someone who was able not to put any salary on the K99 portion because his boss agreed to support him and he could use all the money to pay for a technician and to buy small equipment and supplies. That is a huge chunk of money that you can use to offset your start-up.

- Partial salary support from K99: You must put at least 75% effort on your K99, but the rest of the salary can come from somewhere else. As I discovered, if you help your PI with an R01 and are listed as Key Personnel on it, you cannot be removed, so an additional portion of your salary can come from that.

Faculty salary negotiations always catch people unaware. We have no training whatsoever to negotiate for salary and in a lot of cases we do not even know how much an Assistant Professor is supposed to make. Depending on the institution and geographical location it is safe to say that a research university pays between $70,000 and $130,000. That is a huge spread and for a frame of reference for your specific institution you can use Glassdoor. As far as I know salary negotiation for myself and most of my friends went like this - Chair:"We are going to pay you $X" Interviewee: "Oh, OK. That sounds good." Whatever they offer may be fine for you, but your should make some calculations before to make sure you get what you need if you have tuition or a mortgage to pay. If you can justify a specific need, you should ask for what you want. And then you need to discuss how much you will put on your R00...

- No salary support from R00: For a long time I thought this was a white whale, something you really want and that keeps eluding you. I was intrigued by this wording in the K99/R00 Program Announcement "Institutions must provide a startup and salary package equivalent to that provided to a newly hired faculty member who does not have a grant; R00 funds may not be used to offset the typical startup package or to offset the usual institutional commitment to provide salary for tenure-track (or equivalent) assistant professors who are hired without grant support."  My assumption is that if other tenure-track assistant professors are hired with full salary support for the first three years, putting part of your salary on the R00 does offset your start-up package, but everyone I knew has partial salary on the R00. Until I found out that someone was able to negotiate no salary on the R00! This allows you to hire one or two extra people and can make all the difference in generating data during the first few years. It doesn't hurt to try.

- Partial salary support from R00: The R00 also requires 75% effort, but that doesn't mean that you have to put 75% of your salary on it. If you cannot get 0% salary, you should try and negotiate that as little as possible of your salary goes on your R00, so that you can use the money otherwise. It is going to be very difficult to change it afterwards. If you can get as low as 10% and get the department to cost share the rest, go for it (see comment below and cite this precedent). But in general, I've heard numbers around 40-50%. You have to particularly careful about your effort from now on as I discuss in a follow-up post.
Hope this is helpful. Please keep me posted on how your negotiations go, so that I can update.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"The New PI" turns ONE!!

I now have one year of being a PI under my belt. A year ago I was filled with anticipation,
somewhat naively embarking on this amazing adventure (here). Nobody can prepare you for it and nobody can tell you how hard it is going to be. At times it was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life (here), and I went from the happiest and productive I had ever been to feeling trapped in a bog just trying to figure out how to keep my head above water. I used the metaphor before of feeling like a steam engine trying to get a train full of lead to get going and a friend recently described starting a lab as attempting to move a mountain. You start by wondering how you are going to do it and feeling like an abject failure, but then you find a groove, a handhold and you start pulling...and things start to move, oh, so imperceptibly.
The last couple of days sum it up very nicely. March 30 I braved the rain and snow to get myself to lab after a week of 12-14 hour days doing experiments for revisions on one of my postdoc papers, trying to get a letter of intent for a grant written and dealing with the million random administrative things coming at me every day (getting my DEA license, ordering, harassing HR...). I was emotionally and physically exhausted, so when I got back home I just started trolling pharma web sites looking for another job. March 31 I was awarded my first independent grant, got reviews back for my first paper as a senior corresponding author requiring somewhat minimal additional work and got asked on a thesis committee (does this count as "service"?). Had yesterday not happened, this would have been a very different post. This job has a way to rope me back every time and so we move forward.

These are some of the things I learned in my first year:

1) It's going to be slow. Everyone tells you "It will take forever to get anything done". You listen to them, but have no concept of how slow things can really get. If you are used to continuous movement like I am, it is utterly excruciating. I really urge you to finish you postdoc papers before you start if you don't want to go insane. I also recommend a good yoga teacher or whatever makes you zen.

2) Find some buddies. Get coffee or drinks with the other new PIs in your department or your school. Vent, learn from each other's mistakes, lean on each other. It's easier when you have other people to strategize with and going through the same things. It's also fun when you can meet people from other departments working on completely different subjects. You can come up with crazy interdisciplinary groups and it reminds you why you wanted to be a university professor in the first place.

3) Manage up. Managing up is a skill I am still learning. I tend to get frustrated and not ask for what I need, when in reality I can often just ask my chair and he fixes the problem right away. A lot of the grief I put myself through is self-inflicted, when I could just get my superiors involved and work with them to make things better.

4) Remember why you are doing it. At the end of graduate school I made a pact with a friend that I would quit the moment this job stopped being fun. If it's not fun, it's not worth your time. I love the people in my lab. I think they're awesome and smart and funny, and it's great going to work with them every day. I love sitting on the confocal, taking beautiful pictures. It's peaceful and I can carve 3-4 hours of "me time" to play with lasers. I also love writing grants (not kidding). I love writing in general, but seeing a brand new idea you didn't even know you had shape up in front of your eyes and crafting it into a story are really enjoyable...and I get to buy a really expensive pair of shoes or a painting if I get the grant.

Picture credit: Trust me, I'm a "Biologist"