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Dr. Karen Havholm

University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire

Karen Havholm. Photo courtesy of Karen Havholm and the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.
Most of the information on this page is from an interview conducted by Carol Ormand on February 14, 2006.

Karen Havholm is a professor in the Geology department at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. The university is one of the branch campuses in the UW system, with approximately 10,000 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Karen's husband, Glenn, is a CPA, currently working as a business manager.

The "two-body problem" is not limited to academic couples. While Karen was in graduate school, Glenn was very professionally active and successful. However, they decided to aim toward living in a small college town; when she got an academic job, he would follow her. As he has done so, his career has suffered somewhat.


Karen's job search process: a series of compromises

The first two academic jobs Karen landed were non-tenure-track, which made the question of moving more complicated. Her first job was a one-year position at Colorado College. Since it was so obviously temporary, they chose to live apart that year, he in Texas and she in Colorado. Their daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, lived with Karen. Glenn arranged his work schedule so that he had four-day weekends every two weeks. Meanwhile, in Colorado, Karen was teaching on the block system: one class at a time, all day every day for about three and a half weeks. Each day's class meetings were the approximate equivalent of one week's worth of material on the semester system. Fortunately, Colorado College also offered all-day kindergarten as part of an on-campus daycare center. So, Karen would teach all day, pick up her daughter and take care of her until bedtime, then stay up to prepare the equivalent of one week's worth of class material (for one course) for the next day. It was exhausting. Without the on-campus kindergarten, and the help of generous colleagues, Karen says, she doesn't know how she would have survived.

Even though Karen's next job was only a two-year position, Glenn moved with her, choosing to be unemployed instead of living apart again. As it turned out, Karen was offered her current job after the first year of that one, so they moved again the following year. Glenn continued to be unemployed for another year. While their daughter was young, his being unemployed was fine, even desirable to some extent. However, he has remained underemployed ever since, and he would now prefer to be working at a more fulfilling, full-time position. It's one of the risks he took as a trailing spouse, even one outside of academia.

The challenges and benefits of being a dual career couple

Probably the biggest challenge Karen and Glenn have faced as a dual career couple is finding satisfying full-time work for both of them. However, their current situation has allowed Glenn to spend more time with their daughter than he would otherwise have done. This has been especially valuable as Karen negotiates the demands of a tenure-track appointment.

Being part of a dual career couple has also been beneficial in some ways. For example, Karen points out, they can afford to do what they want to do. Also, having a husband who works and volunteers outside of academia expands their circle of contacts. Being at a large university in a small city makes it easy to live entirely within the "ivory tower"; Glenn's activities connect them to a larger world. In particular, he has been very active as a volunteer, taking advantage of the opportunities available to him because of his less than full time employment. At various times, he has been involved in their daughter's girl scout troop, the Great Books reading program, board member and scheduler in a local figure skating club, president of high school orchestra boosters, and now that she is graduated and moved on, treasurer of the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra. Last, but certainly not least, their daughter has seen a wide variety of opportunities and role models through the activities of both of her parents.

Advice for dual career couples

Karen advises anyone going into academia, and especially women, to be very intentional about the choices you make. It's easy to respond to the pressures of the moment, she says, instead of acting according to your long-term plans for yourself and your family. In particular, she cautions against putting off childrearing (if you plan to have children) to achieve short-term goals. Set your priorities, and make choices that support those priorities.

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