Negotiating your salary

While we will focus on the issue of negotiating your salary as an undergraduate researcher in this section of WebGURU, the information is fundamentally useful and applicable to the greater issue of negotiations, salary or otherwise, in any business relationship.

Your first step should be to do some research to find out what are the salary norms for your employer. Salaries vary widely in undergraduate research experiences. Pelligrini and Mabrouk conducted a nationwide survey study of faculty involved as research advisors in undergraduate research experiences in the field of chemistry in 2001 (unpublished). They learned that faculty utilize a wide array of methods to support undergraduate research experiences including academic credit, salary, honors thesis, senior thesis, and volunteer status. When faculty paid students a stipend, Pelligrini and Mabrouk found that the average student salary was $7.50/h. However, they noted salaries varied widely with some faculty paying students as low as $3/h while others reported paying salaries as high as $12/h. Thus, it is clear that while UR stipends vary somewhat the average hourly pay rate is slightly less than the current minimum wage. This is important information as you will need to weigh the quality and value of the experience and training you will obtain as an undergraduate researcher against the amount of money you will receive in order to determine what is equitable from your standpoint.

Important considerations you should weigh include the following:

  • What is the potential value of this UR experience to your future career? You need to decide what do you want out of this research experience? Do you want to gain:
    • Hands on experience using a specific method, instrument, etc.?
    • Opportunity to work independently on a particular problem of interest to you?
    • Prospect to publish a paper and/or present at a national meeting?
  • What is the quality of the training environment?
    • What is the supervisor’s record, if any, in working with undergraduates?
    • Who are the other members of the research group?
    • What is their educational background, interests, and expertise?
    • Do you think that they will be valuable mentors to you?
    • Do you think that you will enjoy working with them?
  • What is the quality of the instrumentation and facilities that will be available to you?
  • What are the costs, if any, to you in taking on this undergraduate research experience?
    • How much time will you need to devote to this project?
    • Where will you live? If you must relocate in order to take advantage of this opportunity, will you be provided travel, subsistence, tuition waiver, or other costs?
    • Will you have to pay for anything? How much?

Once you have weighed the merits of the opportunity against the salary and any other considerations, you will need to decide whether or not you will be happy with the salary and the situation as presented to you. If the answer is no, you need to decide what you would truly need in order to make the situation acceptable. Think broadly and carefully; a higher salary may not necessarily be the answer. Next you need to discuss your concerns and requirements with your potential supervisor. It would be a good idea to write down all of the key points you want to get across in advance of the meeting and to bring a paper and pencil with you to the discussion so you can jot down the answers you get. If you find it uncomfortable discussing your requirements with your potential supervisor, then you need to think about the reasons for this (For example: Are these issues on your end? Is this a signal that this person is going to be difficult to work with?). It is important to decide whether or not you will be comfortable discussing other sensitive and important work-related issues with this person in the future. When you meet, don’t make any instant decisions one way or the other. Take at least a day and think through everything carefully. Put your decision in writing (this way you have a record for the future). When you make up your mind, move forward and don’t look back.