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How to Negotiate your Postdoc Pay: An Example

Your ability to successfully negotiate your postdoc offer will depend on a couple of factors. An obvious factor is the abundance and/or variety of grant dollars available to your prospective PI. This is one of the questions you must ask during the interview phase of your postdoc. A PI that has a variety of funds may be flexible enough to source for an increase in pay over the NIH postdoc scale (though many postdoc positions do not even pay up to the suggested NIH scale).

In my case, I got to know that my PI has a variety of funds ranging from NIH grants and startup funds as he just made a move to Stanford at the time. This is a good starting point.

Great Opportunity: Learn how to plan for the self-sponsored NIW-green card as an international scholar

Further, your ability to negotiate will depend on how well your skills fit the job description. If you would have to undergo a significant amount of training (e.g, if you are moving to a new field), you may have little to leverage for negotiation. For those who can get up and running with little to no training on the job, you may be able to get a bump in pay. This was my situation as a significant portion of my postdoc required the generation of biopsy-derived 3D organoids which I had already mastered at a previous position. Regardless of your skillset, it doesn't hurt to ask.


So when should I ask?

As with most other jobs, try to stay away from money talk till you are officially offered the position in writing. This is when you have leverage because, at this point, you are their top priority. If your PI or the institution has any room to accommodate whatever you ask at this point, they would do everything they can to have you.

How should I make this request?

With your offer letter in hand, it is time to finalize your research. I used the word "finalize" because I assume you must have done some research on the cost of living and how much you may need to have a comfortable-enough life in the new city. You may use the online cost of living converters or calculators for this purpose. You may print out evidence of your research to support the negotiating request you are about to make.

The Economic Policy has a Family budget calculator you may use.

There are other budget calculators from Expatisitan or CNN Money.

In my case, I realized I would need about a 5% increase in my basic salary to fit my needs. So simply requested between a 6-10% increase via email. Here is what the body of my request email looked like?

"I received your offer today with so much excitement. After going through the details, I have a little request to make. I am sure you'd agree that my skillset and training are a great match with the job responsibilities and I would require little training to get the project going. Considering this and cost of living comparisons (attached), I humbly request that you consider a 6-10% increase in the base salary.
Kindly let me know how you may be able to accommodate my request at your earliest convenience.
Best regards,
Babajide Ojo, PhD"

Of course, they went with the 6% increase, but I would have been fine with 5%. The short video above explains more tips to consider before sending an email, including what to use and what not to use as a reason for an increase in pay.

Bottom line: It doesn't hurt to ask even if you feel everything looks good. The worst response you'd get is sorry we can't. In most cases, they would try to accommodate you as you are their first choice among the pool of candidates. Don't forget that you may also negotiate other items of the offer apart from the base salary or stipend, however, most benefits outside salary are often standard for postdocs with little wiggle room for change. One thing you can also negotiate is the relocation benefit, especially if it will be taxable.

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