Teach the Earth > Career Prep > Job Search > Dual Career Couples > Driscoll-Peach Dual Career Profile

Drs. Neal Driscoll and Cheryl Peach

University of California, San Diego, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, CA

Most of the information on this page is from an interview conducted by Carol Ormand on March 17, 2006.

Cheryl Peach is the Academic Coordinator at the Birch Aquarium, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Neal Driscoll is a professor in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps. The Birch Aquarium is the public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD's premiere marine science research center. When Cheryl and Neal decided to get married (during graduate school), they also decided to make getting jobs in the same place a priority. However, they didn't limit themselves to applying for positions where there were two openings; their current situation is the result of negotiating for a second position where only one was advertised.

The job search: being together is a priority

When Neal and Cheryl were in graduate school, they decided simultaneously to get married and to live in the same place. Their first solution to the 'two-body problem' was to take jobs with oil companies, in Houston. However, they both realized, before they actually started those jobs, that they didn't want to work for the oil industry. For a while, after earning their PhDs from Columbia University, they stayed at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, NY. Neal had a position as postdoc, and later as an associate researcher, and Cheryl worked on the research staff of the Division of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City. During this time, Neal was awarded, but turned down, a postdoc position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. However, when Cheryl was offered an opportunity to work for the SEA Education Association (based at Woods Hole) and Neal was offered a position as an Assistant Scientist at Woods Hole, they made the move to Massachusetts.

Finally, when Neal applied for a faculty position at UCSD, they were able to turn the single advertised position into a 'two-body problem' for the institution. A good search committee, Neal points out, will ask a strong candidate, "What are your needs? How can we make this position attractive to you?" That's when it's time to bring up the topic of a position for your spouse. Cheryl and Neal point out that most institutions these days are aware that dual career couples are increasingly common, and are willing to work to help spouses find employment. The next question UCSD asked Neal was, "Well, what would Cheryl like to do?" They discussed several options, and came up with a position that Cheryl found appealing.

The challenges and rewards of dual academic careers

The biggest challenge Neal and Cheryl face is balancing travel with raising their children. Neal, in particular, goes to sea for periods of two to six weeks at a time, leaving their two boys (ages 9 and 5) in Cheryl's hands. Cheryl, too, sometimes travels, though usually for less than a week at a time. Fortunately, Cheryl's mother lives in the area, and is happy to help out with childcare when one of the parents is gone. Of course, her stamina is not what it once was, and the boys can wear her out by the end of the day. Nonetheless, her help allows Cheryl or Neal to be a working 'single' parent for a time, knowing that the kids are well cared for.

Because Neal and Cheryl can't both be out of town at the same time, they also have to be a bit careful to plan ahead, and occasionally decline an opportunity. Amazingly enough, they say, choosing not to do something has yet to result in catastrophe. Other opportunities inevitably arise. Learning to say no, they say, is the best strategy they've developed for balancing their careers with their family.

"You turn down these opportunities, and nothing goes catastrophically wrong."

Neal and Cheryl also remark on the benefits of having a spouse in academia and in science. Each understands the demands of the other's schedule, including long trips out of town. And they can usually take up the slack for each other when one has a big deadline approaching.

Advice for dual career couples

Cheryl and Neal recommend that dual career couples not limit themselves to searching for two positions in one location. Instead, they say, seek out a job that's ideal for one of you, and negotiate a second position for the other. Being the top candidate for a position gives you leverage for negotiating a second position. With the changing demographics of graduate students in geoscience, there's a growing population of dual career couples, and a growing awareness (particularly within hiring committees) of that population.

Neal also says that when you are asked to do something, it's better to say "no" than to say "yes" and not do it well. You'll advance your career faster by doing a few things really well than by trying to do too much, and not having the time to do anything as well as it should be done. So set limits, and take on only what you know you'll have the time to do well.