Starting in a new place with new funding: what should be on your list

If you’ve just received grant money to set up a research group in a new place, or have been offered a leading position or professorship, there’s a myriad of things to make sure, check, negotiate and set up. Check this list to make sure you’ve got everything covered.

todo list

I’m trying to make this an extensive check list of all the things you should look at when you start your research team or science group. Not every point has to fit everyone. But everyone should be reminded of all relevant things here.

This is work in progress!! If something is missing, please give feedback in the comments!

List-in-progress

Note: depending on what kind of position you are negotiating, some of these points are really obvious, but for other jobs they may not be. Some points might not apply to you.
This list is geared towards first-time grants (e.g. ERC starting grants; German Emmy Noether grants) and (German) junior professorships, not towards negotiating a full professorship. There will be many more points for the latter (a list to come later).

Your own work situation

  • When does the contract start? When does it end?
  • What is your salary?
  • Can you get training for your new challenges? Ask your funding agency whether they pay for some training; ask whether your university offers training.

If you are your new position is not a professor position in Germany (e.g., you got an Emmy Noether grant):

  • Is it possible to negotiate your salary? Check what steps are necessary to rise to the next income rank (e.g. TV-L15). It might be necessary to submit a request the administration to be placed in a higher income rank.
  • What is your status? Are you considered equivalent to a junior professor? Or are you considered “just a postdoc”? In election and in administrative decisions, is your vote a professorial vote or not?
  • Are you expected to take part in administrative meetings? (Germany: Fakultätsrat; Professorium; …)

Your group’s work situation and your new lab

  • Where will be everyone’s office? How man people should share an office?
  • Will you be provided with computers, other hardware, software? If your research includes CPU or memory intensive computations, make sure that you will be provided with adequate hardware.
  • Can you use somebody else’s lab(s)? Are there labs that are shared by everyone? Do you have to share your own lab?

If your grant includes equipment:

  • Who is going to order it? This will depend on the funding source and cost of the device. For instance, the German Research Foundation purchases equipment >50.000€ itself.
  • Make sure you know what is being ordered. Depending on when you obtained the quote you submitted with the grant, there may be newer/better products. Find out whether you can purchase those.
  • Find out when your equipment will be delivered. This can be important information for you to decide when to hire new team members.
  • Are you required to document anything? This may be the case especially with EU money (work hours, what people are working on etc.). Find out early and do it right from the beginning to save yourself lots of headaches later.
  • Do you need to submit an ethics proposal before you can do your work?

Your new team: hiring

  • Make sure you find out all the rules of your institution first.
  • When should your team members start?
  • Where do you have to advertise your positions? Where else can you advertise? Is there a budget for ads? If not (probably not…), then can you use your funding?
  • Can you refund applicants’ travel cost (often no)?
  • How long does the position have to be advertised?
  • How long does it take from your decision to hire someone until that person gets a contract?
  • What is the procedure for interviews? Who has to be present? Does the women’s representative have to be involved, or even be present for the interviews? Do you need to involve the personnel’s representative (Germany: Personalrat)?
  • Find out beforehand how you have to document the application process. For instance, at German universities you will have to give reasons for every person that applied but you did not invite; you might have to show what you did to encourage women to apply; etc.

Finance

  • If you’ve never had to do with financial administration in science, you’re in for some struggles. There will be lots of rules about what you can buy, and how. It might be worth to meet the administrative person who is responsible for you in person.
  • Find out whether you can sign your own purchase orders.
  • What can you buy from your grant money, and what not? Check wether the funding agency excluded anything (they tend to). If you really need what was excluded from your grant, can you get it from the university? In Germany, ask about “Grundausstattung”.
  • Do you have a yearly budget apart from your grant money?
  • Do you get parts of the overheads that your institution gets from the funding agency? If so, what can you spend that money for?
  • When does your grant officially start? For instance, at the German Research Foundation, the grant starts with the first money spent. If you are ordering equipment early, so that you have it when the team comes in, then your grant will already be running. In this case, make sure you know when the grant ends. Often, you can prolong the grant’s running time if this does not add any cost. So, although your grant started with the order of the equipment, your team will be able to have the expected duration for their contracts.
In your experience, what other points are important when someone settles in a new place? Are there things you wish you had known ahead of time? I’d be curious to hear about it in the comments!

Resources

Look for courses you can take to get acquainted with leadership, administrative aspects, finances, etc.

In Germany:
Courses of the Deutscher Hochschulverband
Courses of the Zentrum für Wissenschaftsmanagement

 


This post is part of the open draft for the Research Group Leader Book [about] [read more].

Photo credit: Emily Carlin / Foter / CC BY-ND

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