I was out for dinner the other day with a friend and colleague of mine who I hadn’t seen in awhile, catching up on the goings in each other’s lives. Two big things had happened in her life recently – she’d gotten married and she’d changed jobs. What makes this relevant here on The Black Hole, however, is that she’d left an academic job (specifically, a grant-funded tenure track position) to take a non-academic job (in this case, it was in the health care sector). So of course we got to talking about that and, given my interest in the reasons why PhDs leave academia, I asked her what prompted her to make this career change after so many years of pursing the tenure track and her answer did not surprise me. Her husband is currently a postdoc, with a position that runs out in December. The grant that funds her grant-funded tenure track job runs out three month later, in March 2012 and there is no way of knowing if that grant will be renewed or not. Having a mortgage to pay and kids to worry about, it would be extremely risky to hope that her job gets funded and/or he finds an academic position in Vancouver. They aren’t really in a position to leave Vancouver. So the possibility of both of them being unemployed is very real, so she made to the decision to take on a more secure, budget-funded position. Not an easy decision by any stretch, but certainly one that many people face.
According to this report from Stanford University ((based on a survey of “9,000 full-time faculty at 13 leading U.S. research universities”)), “Academic couples [i.e., academics married to other academics] comprise 36 percent of the American professoriate.” It makes sense: when you spend so much of your time immersed in academia – as PhD students, postdocs, and profs do – there’s a pretty good chance that you are going to meet your partner in those same circles.
And even if you don’t have an academic partner, your partner’s career is likely to figure into your decision of where you work. An additional 36 percent of profs have a partner who is employed (though not an academic themselves), which means that someone looking for a faculty position has to consider not only finding a job for himself or herself, but also a job for their partner. In fact:
In independent internal studies analyzing factors influencing failed faculty recruitment, two prominent U.S.
research universities found that partner employment ranked high (number one or two) in lists that included salary, housing costs, and some 14 to 15 other factors. Similarly, a German study found that 72 percent of German scientists abroad cited “career opportunities for the partner” as a decisive factor for scientists contemplating a return home.
I can think of a few people right now who are in some stage of dealing with this issue. In addition to the friend I mentioned above, I know a dual-academic couple who both work at the same university, I know a couple where both partners are former-academics (they did their PhDs at the UBC, found their first postdocs together in another city, came back to UBC for second postdocs each and then both left academics for non-academic jobs) and I know a couple where the academic partner is seriously considering leaving academics because of a variety of reasons, with family being one of the big ones.
So, I’m interested in hearing about your experience in being in a couple, dual-academic or otherwise. Are you part of an dual-academic couple? Would you turn down an academic position if there weren’t the possibility of an appropriate job for your partner? Does your institution have a policy for hiring couples?