October 2012

I case anybody wondered: I did not make it to produce a single post from Oberwolfach last week. For me it was an unusual dense week. Not only that there were many interesting talks on a tight schedule. The “talk-free” parts of the days I had a lot of interesting and stimulating discussions and the night life did not permit the writing posts either. Sorry – but you may probably read about the outcome of some of the discussions in future blog post…

Guess where this is:

Well, I spoiled the solution in the title anyway (and of course, some of you recognized the sculpture in the last picture): I am in Oberwolfach this week at the workshop “Computational Inverse Problems”. Maybe I’ll find some time to blog about some talks but I am not sure if I can make it. Usually the Oberwolfach workshops are quite intense and hence, blogging will be too much…

Anyway, the autumn looks great here these days:

In a previous post I wrote about my experience with three job interviews for math professorships in Germany I had earlier this year. In this post I’ll tell the next part of the story. As the previous post on this topic, this post is a mixture of a description of my own experience and the general procedure. I won’t spoil any names of people or institution here but if you are interested in more details, feel free to contact me.

1. The “Ruf”

It turned out that I actually got two job offers which are called “Ruf” in Germany (which translates to “call”). The first one arrived (unofficially) by phone once the committee had formed its list. Some time later I received another phone call when the list had passed the Fakultätsrat. The official letter from the Rektor needed some additional weeks to arrive. The other offer arrived first by email (from the Rektorats office) and by paper mail a few days later. The first thing I did after each offer arrived, was to contact the speaker of my math department (by phone), to inform my colleagues (by email) and to inform the dean and the president (both by email and paper mail). I am not sure about the precise protocol here, but I thought it would be best to put the cards of the table.

Both offer-letters were short and formal and the most important thing was that they asked me to prepare a document in which I list my “Vorstellungen zur Ausgestaltung und Ausstattung” (unofficially this is called the “list of wishes”) which is the next point I am going to discuss:

2. The “List of Wishes”

I had no real clue how this document should look like. I was lucky that I could ask friends and that they were so kind to send me documents they had prepared for similar occasions. However, I do not think that there any rules here. University Rektors, Kanzlers or Presidents have negotiations with people from all kinds of disciplines and I am sure that the list of wishes from neuro-biologists, mechanical engineers or philosophers will differ considerably from the one I wrote.

I think the list of wishes should contain:

  • A section about what you plan to do. I think this one is difficult because it should be concrete but honest and also be written in layman’s terms.
  • A section about the workgroup which you have in mind. Especially important: How many associated positions for PhD students/teaching assistants do you expect the university to provide? Do you bring any third party funded people?
  • A description of the office space you need.
  • A list of what you wish for as “start-up funding” (buying computers, laptops, furniture, books, servers,…).
  • Your wishes for a yearly budget (for traveling and guests).
  • What salary do you expect? Are there special reasons for a bonus?
  • Any other circumstances which you find important.

Moreover, you should propose a date (or several) for the negotiations.

I found this list of wishes particularly difficult because it depends largely on the structure and habits of the particular department/faculty and the university. Moreover, some things will be handled by the department and some things will be handled by the Rektorat and it is not always clear a-priori who is responsible for what. In any case it is helpful to speak to the dean of the faculty and any other people you know in the department to find out how this is organized. E.g. usually the organization of secretaries is basically fixed, as well as office space. It is in general a good idea (if not even necessary) to speak to the dean prior to the official negotiation because several things will be handled by the dean and not by the Rektor and if you did not agree with the dean about these things you can get in awkward situations in the negotiations. The salary is always discussed with the Rektor and the Kanzler (not with the Dean), there are a lot of rules according to which salary of professors is organized in Germany. There are federal laws, and university laws concerning the base salary and any additional bonuses. Moreover, these bonuses can be given permanently or temporary. If they are temporary then can be linked to a “target agreement” and this target agreement can or can not contain that the bonus will turn into permanent in case of success… I’ve heard that the base rule here is that it is better to overshoot than to undershoot.

Once you’ve sent your list of wishes you have to wait again. The Rektorat has to find a date for the negotiation and since several important people are involved (to be precise: Rektor, Kanzler and Dean), this may take some time. But after some time, I was contacted (by mail or phone) to agree on a date for the next important step: The negotiation.

3. The negotiation

In both case I was a little bit nervous when the day of negotiation came. As preparation I read several “Gesetzesblätter” again and moreover, tried to get information about the negotiation partners (especially the Rektor and the Kanzler because I knew the Deans already).

The actual negotiations took something between half an hour and one hour and besides Rektor, Kanzler, Dean and myself there was somebody from personnel administration. In both cases the conversation was basically conducted by the Rektor and started with some small talk.

In my first negotiation, the Rektor opened the official part by asking me to explain my research plans in layman’s terms. He seemed honestly interested and tried to suggest connections with other areas of expertise of the university. Next we moved into the list of wishes and then the Kanzler took over. We went over my list of wishes part by part and it was basically that the Kanzler said what the university could offer and what not. Sometimes the dean of the faculty was asked if the faculty could supply something but it seems that this was also prepared in advance. When it came to positions for research assistants, I was also asked about my plans to get third-party funding and how I would like to see and organize my work group. The last point was the negotiation of the salary. Here the dean left (somehow, salary is a highly confidential thing here) and the discussion was basically between the Kanzler and me. The Kanzler tried to briefly explain how the system for extra bonuses works and why he would only offer much less than I wished. I had a few things to reply and in the end, I did not feel that the negotiation ended with a definitive decision. However, they said that I should present my other offers when I get them and that they would be willing to think about outdoing them. Finally, we agreed on a decision deadline for me. The official offer arrived (first by email than in paper form) about a week later. I forwarded the official offer to the second university for the preparation of the next negotiations. I don’t know if this is the usual practice but again, I think that playing with cards on the table in easier here.

My second negotiation directly started with the discussion of the salary (there was no question about my field of research). The Rektorat had prepared a nice tableaux in which they illustrated my current situation, the other offer, and their offer side by side and basically they just topped the others by a small but non-negligible amount. Next we went over my list of wishes as in the first negotiation: The Kanzler said what they can offer and I could comment. Again, the last thing was to agree on a decision deadline for me. Also, the Rektor suggested that I could contact him I would “conditionally accept the offer” depending on smaller things (I am not totally sure what this could be, but salary can definitely be a point here).

In conclusion: I was a bit surprised that the negotiation was kind of a pleasant and open discussion but also that not too much negotiation actually happened (but this probably due to my limited “negotiation capabilities”…).

If I had to extract a general rule of thumb: Getting start-up funding for computers and furniture is easy (at least as a mathematician), increasing the yearly budget is harder, getting more positions for research assistants is hard if not impossible.

4. Next steps

After I had informed my faculty about the job offer, the administration asked, if they should prepare for “Bleibeverhandlungen” (negotiations to stay), i.e. if there was a chance that I would like to stay rather than leave and also if I truly consider to accept an offer (my honest response was that there was a chance for both, but I’ve heard that it could be a disadvantage to give a strong tendency at this stage). Some weeks later I received an official letter from the President of my university in which he invited me to negotiations to stay and asked me to present the official offers when I receive them along with another list of wishes…

Now the final steps will be: Preparation of the next list of wishes, negotiations to stay and finally, the most difficult part, forming a well-founded decision.