After two years of trying, my wife has finally landed the tenure-track job she's dreamed of for so long. Now it's time to set up her lab in Idaho State University's department of biological sciences. The department gave her a startup package for "equipment, materials, other expenses, and for support of students," of just over $200,000, about half of which goes to support research associates. That leaves $100,000 over two years to jump-start her biochemistry lab.

Nothing in her experience - no class, no seminar, no postdoc-mentor conversation - has prepared her for this moment. What should she buy? She'll need the basics first: gel boxes, centrifuges, micropipettes, reagents, glassware, and the like. Her big-ticket wish-list item is a FPLC (fast protein liquid chromatography) system and fraction collector, which she'll use for protein purification and size-exclusion chromatography. Such systems can list upward of $50,000, but between new-faculty discounts and trimming...

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