Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Although we were successful at solving the two-body problem by applying at the same time, we also learned of another way to go about it. While I was on my second interview at MiddleRoadIvyLeagueInstitution, I told the chair that (1) I was pregnant (more on that in other posts), (2) I had a husband who needed a tenure track position, too, and (3) I had two other offers. They were most concerned about the other offers, especially since one was in the BigCity, also.  This motivated them to try to solve problem 2. After searching, they found that MiddleRoadIvyLeagueInstitution had a policy of allowing lateral moves for spouses. This meant that, if HusbandOfScience was already a professor, they would give him a professor job. Since he was currently a postdoc, they would only give him a postdoc.  Thus, we learned that there was another way to do this – the leading spouse could pull in an older, trailing spouse.

I should mention that this does not always work because some places are not as open to bringing in a senior person as a trailing, but MiddleRoadIvyLeagueInstitution was up for it. If this had been our case, and we had gone there, I have no idea how this type of trailing spouse is treated or feels. I have a friend who recently moved as a SeniorTrailingSpouse, and it doesn’t seem to be super great there, but it has barely been a year, so maybe it will get better. Hopefully, my friend will be able to post about her solution to the Two-Body Problem herself.

Comments on: "Other Ways: Lessons Learned" (1)

  1. Transitioning from a Two-Body Problem said:

    Hello, WomanOfScience, this is your friend SeniorTrailingSpouse. I am not sure I like this name! I made up another one, below. For those of you who could not glean from my given name, my husband and I are both academics in science/engineering. We were apart for several years, during which time I had two babies and raised them up to school-age and almost-school-age largely on my own. After lots of looking, drama, negotiation with both institutions, we are now together at his institution.

    I have so much to say on the Two Body Problem that I am not sure where to start. I will get around to writing the guest posts I have promised you, WOS. However, today in particular I am struggling with something, and I thought I should pose the comment/question to you and hopefully your blogosphere.

    If you are lucky enough to have the Two Body Problem solved, how to then balance both of your ambitions? Suppose we both have the opportunity to submit (different) big grants, both with deadlines around the same time. Our own individual research programs are fine in terms of funding, so working on these grants would be a choice. These are both large-scale proposals that actually won’t give us much money directly, but are great for the institution and would be high-profile wins in terms of reputation if we get them.

    But we are tired, and we want to spend some time with the kids this summer, now that we are finally together as a family. One of us could definitely work on a proposal like this while still leaving us collectively with enough “family time,” I think. But if we both choose to work on proposals like this, it will mean a lot of craziness this summer. So which one of us “leans back?”

    Strangely, I never thought about this much when I was living apart from my husband, even though I was solely responsible for the kids during this time. My ambition was really only limited by what I could physically handle. Kids were in daycare a lot. If I had a big deadline, I hired extra babysitting help. If a particular project required consistently working after-hours, well — I couldn’t do it, or rather I was not willing to be away from the kids more often than I already was. Similarly, for travel, if I was invited to give a talk domestically, well fine. I made these strips as short as possible and cobbled together some solution — leave the kids with grandparents, bring Grandma along on a business trip with me, find a daycare in the area willing to do drop-in care. But if I was invited for an international trip — no, sorry, could not manage this. (Saying no to these kind of trips was a choice, but again it was more than I felt I could handle at the time — I do know a single academic mom who did manage to take her daughter on international trips).

    Now, living with my husband means I have more choices. He can of course watch them if I have to work late or if I am out of town. But when we both need to work, how do we balance this? I don’t want to just hire babysitters a lot so that we can both work like crazy — then our life wouldn’t be all that different than what we had before, honestly. Defeats the purpose of living together!

    On a mostly separate note, I think work-life issues are one area where more senior women in science can benefit from mentoring from younger women. Mentoring does not have to go one-way, only from senior women to junior women. The culture has changed dramatically in the time that I’ve been in academia — negotiating for a position for your spouse was unheard of when I started. I think younger women have a better idea of how to navigate and negotiate issues around this than senior women do.

    Ok, very long comment. Perhaps you can re-post it and it can be my first guest post!!

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