“If you don’t ask, then the answer is always ‘no’ “

I’ve heard this advice from a couple of places, and I was about to put this into practice until my landlord cautioned me. He said that he’s also heard of that advice and variations of it (“You can’t score if you don’t shoot.”), but he thinks it’s not an absolute statement. He said that depending on the situation, sometimes, you don’t want to put yourself in a position to “shoot” because if you miss, then you’re the one that created that opportunity to miss in the first place. Sometimes, it’s better to pass the puck or play defense (Note: we’re discussing this in Canada, so of course there’s a hockey analogy).

Now, I have been afraid of “missing” and hence I have been postponing my negotiation with my supervisor for awhile. Basically, I just started my Masters program with her, and I want to ask her if she would be able to provide a desktop computer for me and at least one of her graduate students. Obviously you don’t go around asking for stuff randomly, but I feel that in my situation, I am in a position to ask because:

a) Me and another graduate student of hers are her first 2 PhD students (the other left after 2 years after their MASc degrees…we’re stuck here for at least 5 more years)

b) The other graduate students in her labs have worked with her as an undergraduate before, and they (obviously) have never asked her for such a thing. However, because I am new here, I don’t know the “norm” and thus, it won’t be so bad if it were me who asks the question

c) We have a computer lab on the first floor of the building and also we have a common room that students in my division share, but the former is far removed from other students and professors (we’re on the 4th floor) which would hinder interaction and communication, and the latter only has 3 computers for 8+ students who need them.

d) My laptop is 15″ and to carry it to and from school is very awkward. Plus, with all confidential and important data on our research stored on my laptop, it would be bad if I were to lose it along the way between home and school

e) there are more personal reasons I can think of that won’t be used as argument with my supervisor

The other thing stopping me from negotiating with my supervisor for it is that she’s one of the experts on…negotiation. “You can’t beat your supervisor at her own game!” cautions my landlord. However, I feel that going in knowing this and the fact that she just recently got tenured might help in my cause. Being tenured means she’s more relaxed and would be opened to “ideas” and also means she should be in a better mood in general.

Timing is also obviously key. I’m not going to walk in tomorrow to ask for it when my project hasn’t even started yet. Of course I’m going to wait until I have something “accomplished” before I ask for something. But I can’t wait too long or else my back will break for carrying my laptop in addition to a million other things to school everyday (in order to sustain myself there from 9am to 8pm).

I think it’s time to review some negotiation literature to see the best way to approach this!


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