What you don't know could hurt your career out of the gate.
As a senior graduate student and post-doc you hear people tell you how important it is to get enough start up funds. Negotiating this part of your offer is as essential as your salary and teaching load. However, no one provides details into what it actually costs to build a research lab/group from the ground up.
What little I learned I gleaned from overheard conversations during faculty hiring events or sitting in on faculty meetings. In grad school I was the grad student representative for our department who attended monthly faculty meetings. By the third meeting I was done. Talks of mortgaging tenured faculty positions, freezing hires, and shifting research emphasis due to animal care regulations and rules soured me from academia. That last meeting was my turning point. Until that moment I was dead set on a career as an academic. After that meeting, not so much.
I enjoy teaching and research and outreach (service). But those details I learned at that meeting overwhelmed me. I look back and realize I was overwhelmed because I wasn't at all prepared for that reality. I blindsided by the backroom deals and talk happening behind closed doors. No one, not one single person explained (or even hinted to me) that this is what a career in academia actually entailed. And as a person from an under-represented group (and 1st generation college graduate) learning by fire was not in my personal best interests. So I ducked - for a long time I ducked and dodged. But this start up thing isn't something that's exclusive to academia. So, I realize that this is something I need to know - seriously, I need to know about it, how it's done, and all of the details - intimately.
How much does it cost to get all of the equipment, supplies, and biologicals you need to begin your own research program? How much of your budget includes human resources and administrative overhead?
Does the size and type and mission of the institution play a role in what they can or will provide as it relates to space, customization, access to tools, supplies, equipment, storage, housing (for animals)?
Questions related to start up are asked on interviews and in applications. Failure to handle this question properly would certainly eliminate someone from the pool. Especially for candidates from traditionally underrepresented groups, the risk of negotiating poorly on this topic is surely high and the consequences are great. Failure to ask for enough money or the appropriate space or support can impact research productivity and tenure decisions down the line.
Especially with respect to diversity among the professoriate - this is one of those black boxes we need to find and study.