The Two-Body Problem
On this page, the CSWA has compiled resources on the problems faced and solved by two-career couples in astronomy and other fields of science. Each link is accompanied by a short quote, chosen by us, or a short summary. The webmaster would welcome suggestions of additional resources.
"Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know" (PDF, 696KB) from Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research
A thorough, 72-page scholarly publication. Sections:
- "Partnering Patterns in the Academic Workforce" (who partners with whom; who gets hired)
- "Academic Couples: Career Paths and Priorities" (mobility and trade-offs)
- "University Programs, Policies, and Practices: How to Maximize Options?"
"Dual Career Couples," from a resource page entitled, "Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences"
"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." Resource categories on this page include
- Case Studies: Geoscience Dual Career Couples
- Articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Articles from the Tomorrow's Professor Email List
"The 2-Body Problem: New Advice for an Old Problem?" by Heidi Hammel, Megan Donahue, et al., from our advice page
"Solving the 2-body problem isn't always easy. But, you know, a lot of us have that problem these days, so the smart employers are learning how to, if anything, solve the 2-body problem to their advantage. I believe that a lot of progress has been made in this regard over the last 20-30 years, simply because it's a lot more common to have 2-career couples in any field and the system has realized there's an economical advantage to dealing with it."
Special session at the spring 2005 AAS meeting, listed on our meetings page. The above link is to a collection of presentations in PowerPoint or PDF.
"Our story is evidence that the two-body problem can be solved. ... Through our experience, and the experiences of other couples we know, we've assembled some advice for dual-career couples in the process of applying for academic jobs, where the goal is two tenure-track positions."
"As a senior scientist married to an accelerator physicist, Persis Drell, director of research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, is often asked by young researchers for advice on decision-making in such cases. 'I tell them that it's fine to choose a solution where both partners are happy — or even where both are not happy — but not where only one partner is happy. It just puts too much stress on the relationship,' says Drell ..."
"Recruiters say couples must use deliberate tactics to ensure that both members secure desirable employment. Before even applying for positions, candidates need to determine how specific institutions view the issue — whether they're receptive to it or at least have clear policies on it, or whether they shrug at a candidate's partnered status. And, once the application process is under way, candidates must properly time the disclosure of their partnered status (see 'Negotiating for two')."
"One of the biggest dilemmas for a partnered scientist who is seeking a job is determining exactly when to disclose that he or she has a partner with an active research career. Department chairs, hiring executives and the scientists themselves have different opinions on the optimal timing ..."
Comments on the two-body problem, especially on handling imminent childbirth during hiring negotiations, from the Female Science Professor Blog
Several readers share their experiences.
"The Two-Body Opportunity," from ACS Careers, posted April 30, 2012
Even before you begin a job search, you and your spouse need to seriously consider and discuss your values, professional goals, and family goals. What must you have as a couple? What would be nice, but not necessary? What are you willing to do without?
In addition to what you need as a family, you should discuss what each of you individually needs and wants. One partner might need challenging work, while the other needs the security of a steady paycheck. You need to decide on a strategy that will work for both of you – will one person’s career always lead, and the other always follow? Will you take turns getting priority when it’s time for a change? ...
"Dual Career Challenges," by Sue V. Rosser, from Inside Higher Ed, July 18, 2012
'Couples in all fields, and particularly those in academe, face struggles over career priorities. For women scientists, the issue is especially acute since, as the Clayman Institute report documented, 83 percent of women scientists are partnered with other scientists, compared to 54 percent of men scientists. The following interviews with academic women scientists (presented here with pseudonyms) illustrate various issues raised by the dual career opportunity.'
"Gender and the Dual Career Academic Couple," by Lisa Wade, from "Sociological Images," on The Society Pages
'In an effort to map the shape of the dual career challenge, the Clayman Institute for Research on Gender at Stanford University did a survey of 30,000 faculty at 13 universities. The study was headed by Londa Schiebinger, Andrea Henderson, and Shannon Gilmartin.' ...
'For women who are partnered with another academic, the data is starker than the 6 point difference above would suggest. The researchers asked members of dual-career academic couples, whose job comes first? Half of men said that theirs did, compared to only 20% of women. When it comes to balancing competing career demands, then, women may be more willing to compromise than men.'
"We Met in Graduate School," by Jon T. Coleman in The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 23, 2012
' ... Just as we did, my students see many dual-career academics whose partnerships function, for better or worse. They see the survivors, the ones who ran the gantlet of endless dissertation revisions, tricky job searches, and nerve-racking tenure decisions.
'They don't see the trailing spouses who never got hired, or the couples who divorced and moved on, or the full-time/half-time arrangements that collapsed, or the adjunct professors who worked so many jobs they had scant time to be a couple. They don't see the partnerships torn apart by publishing demands, asymmetrical career prospects, or odious commutes. The casualties simply aren't around to instruct them.
'Telling our stories might be the best gift our generation could hand down to the next. Indeed, an archive of our weird, inspirational, and tragic sagas would serve posterity well - as long as we adhere to some rules.'
[To see the rules, read on.]
Story of the career of a couple who work together more closely than most couples. Interesting.
"Let's stick together: How couples can go the distance," by Jenny Blair, in New Scientist 14 February 2013
'... it's not surprising that the way couples navigate the two-body problem can make or break careers and relationships. But there are ways to tip the scales in favour of a happy outcome.'
"When Two Bodies Are (Not) a Problem: Gender and Relationship Status Discrimination in Academic Hiring," by Lauren A. Rivera, American Sociological Review, First Published October 25, 2017
' ... Through a qualitative case study of junior faculty search committees at a large R1 university, I show that committees actively considered women’s—but not men’s—relationship status when selecting hires. Drawing from gendered scripts of career and family that present men’s careers as taking precedence over women’s, committee members assumed that heterosexual women whose partners held academic or high-status jobs were not “movable,” and excluded such women from offers when there were viable male or single female alternatives. Conversely, committees infrequently discussed male applicants’ relationship status and saw all female partners as movable. ...'
"Ten simple rules for a successful remote postdoc," by K.R. Burgio, MacKenzie C. McDonough, S.B. Borrelle, et al., PeerJ Preprints, 2019 7:e27907v1
'We offer 10 simple rules for overcoming challenges and leveraging the unique opportunities presented by remote postdoc positions, derived from our experiences as either remote postdocs or the PIs who have mentored them. We believe that not only will these suggestions increase the desirability of remote postdoc positions whenever they are feasible, but that they also contain good practices for facilitating better communication both within labs more generally and in other long-distance collaborations.'