The standard answer is “You should ask for what you need”. But what does this mean, really? You should propose a budget that will help you get you through your first three pre-tenure years. They will be things that will support multiple projects in the future. Many of these things will be items not typically part of a regular scientific project proposal budget, as such things are usually taken for granted by funding agencies. Hence the classic advice of buying big-ticket analytical devices. The equipment and supplies needed will obviously differ between fields, but here is a strategy anyone can use: walk through the kinds of projects you want to do and list out everything required that costs money. This will give you a list of things to buy.
For example, what would it take to conduct a field study of contaminant cycling through aquatic and terrestrial food webs? You’d need basic assorted field sampling equipment (traps, nets, bottles, jars, trays –you know, the little stuff, but this can be lumped into one big number). You might want to measure limnological parameters in the field (multi-probe sonde).You will need to store samples prior to analysis (refrigerator, deep freezer, perhaps a portable freezer). Then you need to identify organisms (compound microscope, dissecting microscope, perhaps a video attachment). Then you need to conduct analytical chemistry, contaminant chemistry, or perhaps isotopes. Will you be doing this yourself, or will you farm it out under contract? (mass spec, spectrophotometer, or a budget for external analyses). How much sample preparation do you anticipate doing yourself? (preservatives or other chemicals, precision balance, marble table, filtration equipment, centrifuge, ovens). Etc…etc…
Do you want to set up a special lab facility? That might require separate lab or greenhouse lab space, remodeling, a water supply, filtration, drainage, mesocosms, electricity, lights, frames to hold lights, etc. Even if you plan to hold off on building such a facility for a few years while you get other work off the ground, you have to budget for it now.
Other items to ask for:
- 1st year’s summer salary (not guaranteed, but you can try).
- 2 years of student support.
- Funds to cover travel to meetings and field sites.
- Funds to cover special computer equipment or supercomputing time.
- Funds to cover specialized software development.
- Adequate floor space or multiple rooms with special facilities (be specific, state the square feet).
Get quotes for expensive items, and check catalogs for real costs. A little padding never hurt either. Once you have your budget, you and the department head will discuss it. He will trim items that the department already has, and ask if you can get by with less expensive alternatives. A regular kitchen refrigerator might do instead of a “scientific” fridge ten-times the price. You will probably arrive at a number and ultimately have the freedom to spend it as you see fit, but likely be required to spend it within a short time frame.