Chemists Sarah Tolbert and Benjamin Schwartz shared useful insight on some of the challenges of a dual-career relationship in academia at an American Chemical Society webinar last week.
The ‘two-body’ issue, which arises when one member of a couple with dual careers is exploring a job opportunity in a distant location, is widespread in academia: in Naturejobs’ 2010 salary survey, almost half of respondents said it was problematic (see ‘A dual dilemma’). The ‘trailing spouse’ must either look for a post in the new location as well, or take on a lengthy commute, deal with a long-distance relationship or accept unemployment.
Tolbert and Schwartz, an academic couple at University of California, Los Angeles, offered several tips from a US perspective on how to approach the first option: looking for two new jobs.
When looking for two equal academic jobs, if possible they advise choosing your fields so that you can both add to the academic diversity of a department. “If you have the same research background, it is very hard to justify a department hiring both of you,” says Tolbert.
It’s also a good idea to go on the job market together, and when you are both as close as possible to your peak. If you can, avoid having one of you labelled as ‘the spouse’ at all – it’s better for whoever is hiring you to feel that they are making a free decision.
If you’re looking for jobs in different sectors or types of organisations, focus on bigger cities where you have better odds of finding two appropriate positions due to the greater number of academic institutions and companies. In addition, most departments have personal ties to local industry or community colleges that you may be able to take advantage of. “It is okay to ask people to use these personal connections to help find a position for your spouse,” says Tolbert. Most universities also have lecturer positions that may be suitable for spouses.
Tolbert adds that universities sometimes have extra pools of money earmarked for hiring spouses, although these will only be used if a department really wants both members of a couple.
Whatever tactic you use, timing is crucial. “Your maximum negotiating power as a couple is in that very small window between when the department has given you an offer and when you actually say yes,” says Tolbert. “You have incredible power.” She ascribes this to the stubborn nature of many academics – once they have finally agreed on who they should make an offer to, they’ll work very hard to get that person.
Do you agree with their advice? Do you have any other useful tips for managing job hunting in dual-career relationships? Are you affected by the two-body issue? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.