Monday, March 1, 2010

Job Search Saga: Assessing Start-Up Funds

As a graduate student, I'm used to surviving on a small stipend. Budgets, and denial of certain fun expenses, are a way of life. So I was surprised to find how quickly I could spend thousands of dollars when calculating my lab start-up expenses. An amount to me that first seemed, if not extravagant, then at least reasonable, turned out to be just sufficient.

My line of research is not a particularly expensive one; the vast majority of the tools I need can be bought from standard stores and websites. Still, the job was in the second-most expensive sub-field (out of five) in my area, and the money was allotted to basic expenses remarkably quickly. Computers themselves were the largest expense, quickly followed by computer software - my statistical analysis package alone turns out to be more expensive than a mid-range desktop computer. (And aren't I glad now that I have the discounted graduate version?) Toss in the few specialized tools needed for my research, and suddenly there was no room left.

Normally, this would be the point to start negotiating for more funds, but the offer had been declared "non-negotiable". Neither I nor my advisor had any basis for comparing this offer to others - small liberal arts colleges will never have the start-up funds that my research-focused university-professor advisor had received. I suppose I could have dusted off some contacts I made when researching liberal arts colleges a year ago, and asked for some guidance, but I didn't do it. Instead, I started feeling a creative challenge. How could I make this amount work?

I toyed around with cutting expenses here or there, trying to figure out what would be most important purchases to get my research program up and running. In the end, I decided the only thing that there was to decide at this point: I could make the start-up funds work. If I didn't manage successful research at this college, lack of funds would not be the reason. Which meant that the offer was reasonable, and I was back to figuring out whether I should accept it.

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