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Responsibilities May Include

What to remember when negotiating an offer of employment

There are several details that should be finalized before you sign on to a faculty position.


This article is based on a session that took place at the 2023 Graduate and Professional Development Network’s annual Graduate Career Symposium. At that session, Emmanuelle spoke with Reinhart, who shared his advice about the negotiation process that may follow the offer of a faculty position.

Congratulations! You have been offered a tenure track position in a department at a Canadian university. You are excited to launch your independent research career and teach at the undergraduate and graduate level in your discipline. The chair of the department has sent you a letter of offer for you to review. Most letters of offer are based on standard templates constructed by human resources departments and approved by university administration and faculty associations. This does not mean that there is no room for negotiation. Remember: you are the preferred candidate, which puts you in a strong negotiation position. Before you sign or accept the offer of employment, there are a number of things to consider:

Start date: The most common start date is July 1, set in order to provide the new recruit time to organize their teaching for the fall term. This date is not fixed, but departments would usually like their new recruit onsite within six months. There will be a deadline to accept or refuse the offer that can sometimes be slightly delayed if you’re considering other jobs. Offers are often subject to approval by the dean or other administrators, so negotiating can take several weeks.

Salary: University salaries are determined by the faculty associations and the university. Starting salaries typically have a range and will depend on how long it has been since you completed your PhD. Time spent as a postdoctoral scholar, a sessional lecturer, or doing other paid activities counts as work experience.

Benefits: Benefit packages are relatively standard, though it is worth familiarizing yourself with them; they typically include a pension, extended health benefits and life insurance. Remember you will be required to contribute to these plans in partnership with the university.

Appointment type: Most new faculty are recruited into tenure-track positions at the assistant professor level, where they are expected to contribute 40 per cent of their time to research, 40 per cent to teaching and 20 per cent to service. Teaching stream or lecturer positions where you have a greater teaching load (60 to 80 per cent) are becoming more common. Sometimes these are part-time faculty positions, which may suit individuals with family commitments. Contractually-limited appointments from one to five years are not tenure-track but give candidates the opportunity to gain experience and typically allow you to apply for federal Tri-Council grants. Even tenure-track positions typically come with an initial three-year contract, subject to renewal. Consideration for tenure is usually at the five to seven year mark. If you held a previous faculty position for at least five years you should be appointed at the associate professor level, although some universities may make you go through their own tenure process. Since there is no longer mandatory retirement in Canada, once you achieve tenure you have a job for life!

Teaching load: Most universities have a work-load policy for faculty members. A typical teaching load for an arts and science position is about 100 hour per year at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Teaching loads in faculties of medicine are typically lower. You are expected to supervise graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as part of an active research program. You can ask for some teaching relief in your first year or be nominated for a salary award such as a Canada Research Chair that comes with a reduced teaching load.

Graduate student support: Graduate students carry out most of the research at universities and they are paid a stipend to do so. You can negotiate for the department to provide a stipend or a teaching assistantship to help recruit students to your research program.

Office and lab space: This is an important consideration that you can negotiate with the chair. Will your office be located next to a treasured colleague? Does your assigned lab space give you room to grow your research team? Will it require any significant retrofits? Do you have access to specialized equipment? Are these costs covered?

Start-up funds: You will need to present a budget for start-up funds. This may be quite substantial if you are setting up a research lab. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation provides funds to universities to support research, especially for expensive equipment. Even if you don’t have a research lab, you may request funds to cover the costs of your office setup, a computer for teaching, memberships in professional societies, the stipend of your first graduate student, stipend for a summer research assistant, travel costs to professional conferences or research sites, or some smaller equipment-basically anything that will allow you to cover the costs of your transition year until you get your first grant.

Moving expenses and housing: The university should fully cover the cost to move you and your family to a new location. Some universities provide forgivable loans to help purchase a home or provide subsidized faculty housing. Don’t forget to ask about day care, if applicable. Often space is limited and wait times are long.

Partner hiring: Many academics have partners who also work in higher education. Universities will often work to provide suitable appointments for your partner, but it could end up being a contract position.

A final thought: Make sure that the letter of offer puts you in a position for success. Once you sign, you have lost your bargaining position and it’s difficult to re-negotiate your terms of employment. Similarly, ensure the terms related to the key aspects mentioned above are explicitly identified in writing. Certain aspects you negotiate may take longer to implement (e.g. retrofits to a lab) or may cover a specific time period (e.g. teaching release). Having something in writing ensures that what you negotiated will be honoured regardless of changes in leadership.

Reinhart Reithmeier is a professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto. Emmanuelle Arnaud is a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and the Assistant Dean, OAC (Graduate Programs) at the University of Guelph.
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