Initial Publication Date: July 19, 2006

Dual Career Couples

In physics, the "two-body problem" describes the gravitational field created by two celestial bodies. In academia, the same term describes the situation encountered when both members of a couple are applying for jobs.

Dual career couples face additional challenges in the job search process: choosing whether, when and how to reveal to prospective employers that your spouse is also looking for a job; deciding whether (and for how long) you and your spouse are willing to live apart for the sake of one or both of your careers; and even choosing how you (as a couple) will make choices. As more and more women earn PhD's in science, the number of dual career academic couples in science is growing. The resources below illustrate some of the (successful!) choices and strategies available to dual career couples.

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Case Studies: Geoscience Dual Career Couples

Here are several examples of dual career couples in the geosciences. While every couple is different, these case studies may give you some ideas about how other couples have handled situations that you are facing or may face in the near future.

  • Tom Hickson and Lisa Lamb are professors in the Geology Department at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, MN. Tom and Lisa were hired simultaneously, to fill two tenure-track positions; when they were hired, they were a two-person department.
  • Linda Reinen and Eric Grosfils are professors in the Department of Geology at Pomona College, in Claremont, CA. They were hired to share a tenure-track position. Six years later, the college expanded their single position to two full-time positions.
  • Karen Havholm is a professor in the Geology Department at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. Her husband, Glenn, is a CPA, currently working as a business manager. Having followed Karen to Eau Claire, Glenn is now working to rebuild his career in that new location.
  • Marc Hirschmann and Donna Whitney are professors in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. Marc and Donna were hired simultaneously, at 3/4 time each, after they both applied for a (single) tenure-track petrology position. Both positions were expanded to full time after their first year.
  • Molly and Calvin Miller are professors in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. They applied to share a single, tenure-track position, so that they could share both their work and their family responsibilities equally. They continued to share one position until their children were 9 and 7; then both became full-time faculty members.
  • Jane Selverstone and Dave Gutzler are professors in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico. They were both hired, with tenure, after Jane applied for a position in metamorphic petrology.
  • Laura Guertin and Dan King are professors of Earth Science and Chemistry, respectively, at two different institutions (half an hour apart) in Pennsylvania. Both are tenure track.
  • Neal Driscoll and Cheryl Peach both work in San Diego, CA: Neal is on the faculty at UCSD, and Cheryl is the Academic Coordinator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Birch Aquarium. Throughout their employment history, they have found ways to work near each other.
  • Estella and Eliot Atekwana are currently at the University of Missouri - Rolla, but will begin new faculty positions at Oklahoma State University in the fall of 2006. They taught at separate institutions for many years before getting two tenure-track positions at UM-R. More recently, Oklahoma State has offered them both tenured positions.
  • Jon Lewis and Lisa Borghesi are professors of Geoscience and Immunology at universities located ~60 miles apart. They started in their tenure track positions concurrently, which they describe as a stroke of good fortune rooted in perseverance and resilience.
  • Two Scientists and a Baby describes earth scientist Alexis Templeton and biophysical chemist Amy Palmer's successful dual career job search. Both are now at the University of Colorado.
  • "Making it Work Together: Spouses on the Tenure Track," by Carol and Andrew deWet, describes their shared, tenure track position at Franklin and Marshall College, which they proposed when they applied for the position. (Both Carol and Andrew are now tenured.)

General Resources

  • Dual Career Academics is a set of web resources from the Clayman Institute at Stanford University, including Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know, a 2008 report that explores the impact of dual-career partnering on hiring, retention, professional attitudes, and work culture in the U.S. university sector. It also makes recommendations for improving the way universities work with dual-career candidates and strengthen overall communication with their faculty on hiring and retention issues.
  • Facebook has a group for dual career couples. While not limited to academic dual career couples, it is administered by the Clayman Institute at Stanford.
  • The Dual-Science-Career-Couple Page contains a wealth of resources, including links to sample policies and contracts for shared/split positions, links to institutional spousal hiring programs, and a report of the results of a web-based survey of academic couples in science.
  • Solving the Two-Body Problem, by Anurag Agrawal and Jennifer Thaler, is a thoughtful description of the advantages and disadvantages of revealing the presence of your academic spouse at each stage of the job search process, and includes helpful tips about how to do so, based on the experiences of the authors and other dual career academic couples they know.
  • Stephanie Weirich's job search resources page includes detailed advice for dual career job searches, based on her (and her husband's) recent, successful search.
  • Part-time Working Mothers (Acrobat (PDF) 80kB Nov20 06) is an article from Gaea, published by the Association for Women Geoscientists. It's about the struggles of balancing family (or more generally a personal life) with a career in science. Many readers contributed their experiences with this challenge, and added their advice to young scientists.
  • The Academic Job Search Handbook, by Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick, includes a chapter of advice for anyone whose job search may be atypical, including members of dual career couples. The list of suggestions at the end of the chapter may be particularly useful.
  • Dual-Career Couples and Academic Science, by C. Susan Weiler and Paul H. Yancey, explores the challenges facing dual science career couples in academia and potential solutions. The authors consider the value to institutions of taking the lead in accommodating dual career couples, allowing those institutions to attract and retain more talented scholars.
  • The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Practices in Higher Education, by Lisa B. Wolf-Wendel, Susan Twombly, and Suzanne Rice, explores the dual career hiring policies and practices used by a variety of colleges and universities. Using data from an extensive survey of public and private universities as well as in-depth case studies of institutions representing distinctive approaches to this problem, the authors find that the type of institution -- its location, size, governance, mission, and resource availability -- is a critical factor in determining dual-career employment options. Knowing the options that have worked for various types of institutions may help you choose what kinds of accommodations to request in your job searches.
  • Dual Career Academics: The Right Start, by Elizabeth Simmons and published on Inside Higher Ed's website, includes candid descriptions of potential issues and suggestions for preventing them.
  • MentorNet

    • MentorNet homepage: "MentorNet is the award-winning nonprofit e-mentoring network that addresses the retention and success of those in engineering, science and mathematics, particularly but not exclusively women and other underrepresented groups." Graduate students and untenured faculty members are eligible for one-on-one email-based mentoring by tenured faculty.

Articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Articles from the Tomorrow's Professor Email List

Tips from Early Career Geoscience Faculty Workshop Alums

  • While people have different opinions on this, I have found it best to be up front about the [dual career] situation (once you have an interview, no sense wasting time before then). If a place is accommodating and flexible, this gives them more time to be that way. If a place is unsupportive and unlikely to work with you, you'll know that sooner rather than later. And everyone will be happier if you know that up front. Waiting for a job offer and then springing the partner on your employer (a) doesn't give them enough time to respond in some cases and (b) can leave a bad taste for all involved. Even if you end up with two jobs, they could be in an unpleasant climate and you don't just want any two jobs, you want two successful careers.
  • Discuss your career goals/wants early and often - don't wait until there are job offers to consider. Think about what aspects of your career each of you are willing to compromise for your partner (e.g. are you flexible about where you live, whether you are tenure-track, whether your position has a teaching or a research emphasis?). This might help you focus your job search and eventually choose the job offer that will be the best for both of you.
  • It is important to be forthcoming about your situation early in the hiring process. Convince the Department that you are not a two-body "problem" but a two-body "asset" - you both bring individual qualities and are more likely to stay at a University where both of you have positions!