Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Archive for the ‘Negotiating’ Category

“Women Don’t Ask”

The title of this post harkens back to the classic book about negotiation skills for women. Negotiation skills are important for an academic career for more than just making sure you get a good start-up package. Daily negotiations are needed to make sure you aren’t doing too much service, taking on a terrible teaching load, or otherwise being taken advantage of. I am planning to have a couple posts on negotiating. I hope others will comment or write some guest posts about this important topic.

Surprise! I have a husband!

When on the market with a TwoBodyProblem, at some point you must reveal that you have a two body problem. But how and when are still a mystery. Multiple WomenOfScience, I have talked to have said that they faired best when they revealed it late. Yet, I talked to a WomanDepartmentChair, and she said that knowing earlier is better for her, since it would give her more time to negotiate and line up the second position. Now, this was a clearly enlightened chair who herself had a two body problem that was solved in that department.

Personally, I tried several different reveal times. For a couple, they knew or found out that we were together. For these three schools, I had two offers, and they both worked out something (one was tenure track and the other was soft money – I am sure you can guess which we picked). For one, I told them I had a spouse at the first interview. I was second on the hire list, but did not get an offer. For a couple, I didn’t tell them until the offer was made. One said it was impossible; the other offered my spouse a postdoc. From these experiences, I concluded that it is OK if they know already or find out through “natural” means, but if you are a complete stranger, it is best to not tell people too early.

Do others have stories or options that would work? What about telling the chair only, to enable some early probes before negotiating, but not telling the hiring committee?

Start Early

When thinking about your career, you cannot start too early. HusbandOfScience and I started planning in graduate school. As soon as we realized that we were planning to get married, we began to think about how we could achieve our career goals together. It is extremely important that your spouse is supportive and knows what the plan is. You have to make a plan and StickToThePlan. You and your significant other have to trust each other to StickToThePlan. We would chat 2-3 times per week about the plan, how to implement it, and the myriad of contingencies that could trickle down from not making it. Further, we always talked about “what if we don’t…” Like, what if we don’t get jobs; what if we don’t get two jobs together; what if we don’t get tenure. This is the same type of systematic planning we all need for scientific problem solving, research, and grant writing, so we should be very good at it. We had a whole decisions tree going on. I think it is important to have a back-up plan. I know some people think that having a back-up plan means you aren’t committed to the main plan, but that isn’t true. Having a back-up plan is just swinging on the trapeze with a safety net. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to try to stay on the trapeze.

Don’t Assume they Know

Although the two-body problem is obvious to many of us – especially younger and minority applicants – the people who are doing the hiring are not always so with it. This is especially true if your hiring committee is composed of mostly OlderWhiteMales. Most OWMs are not trying to keep out women and minorities, but they are oblivious. Most committees are required to have women or minorities on them, but they might not have a strong voice, if they are a minority voice. Further, they might also be ignorant of university policies or avenues that can lead to a double-hire.

At the BigStateUniversity that my husband and I ended up at, the hiring committee and the department had no idea how to go about trying to get a spousal accommodation. I did a number of things to help them.

First, at my interview, I asked to meet with other women in physical and life sciences. At those meetings, I asked about being a woman at the university, and I found out that several had two-body problems that the university had solved. This gave me evidence that the university could solve the two-body problem and that these other departments knew how to do it.

Second, I talked to the woman on my hiring committee about the possibility of solving the two-body problem during our meeting. I was lucky that she was senior, and she knew a lot about these issues.

Third, we StuckToThePlan. When the department called with the news they would make an offer to me, I asked about my husband’s search. He had a separate interview at the same place. They said that he wasn’t the top candidate. I told them that I would say “no” to all offers unless we had two positions.

After several weeks of chatting with the Department Chair, so he could negotiate with the Dean about my start-up, it became clear that he had no idea how to negotiate for a two-body hire. I told them it had to be possible because other departments had done it recently. I gave them the department names of the women I had talked to. I contacted the senior woman on my search committee, and asked her to talk to my chair about different options they could exercise. With her help, they figured out how to approach the Dean, and were able to make the spousal hire. HusbandOfScience did not get to negotiate for start-up. They gave him the same package as the theorist they hired for the same position for which he interviewed. Other than that, the solution at BigStateUniversity was ideal. We have been very successful.

Stick to the Plan

When you are trying to solve the two-body problem, you need a plan. Just as important is to stick to the plan. HusbandOfScience and I are big planners. We knew we both wanted tenure track positions, and we knew we wanted to stay together. Our plan was that we would not take positions apart. These seems simple, but when offers start coming in, it is easy to be tempted to stray.

In our case, we AppliedEarlyAppliedOften, and we could stay at our current positions for another year. It was easy to say no. I told offers that I would say “No” to anything that wasn’t two positions. When I got a couple offers, I started playing one off the other. If my husband had received offers, he would have begun the same process.

This process takes trust. My husband trusted that I would not take a job without a job for him. I trusted that he would not take a job without a job for me. Luckily, you have plenty of time to negotiate, so you don’t have to say yes right away. It is also helpful because playing hard to get is good for negotiating.

Remember that during the negotiations is the only time you have any power. At my interview at BigCityPrivateUniversity, the department chair told me that “anything” is negotiable. For BigCity, we had to stipulate housing, and he was trying to say we should negotiate for better housing. Some people negotiate for better parking, I negotiated my husband’s position.

Through everything, the most important thing was to stick to our plan. As soon as you accept a position, you lose your bargaining power.  You cannot take a position and hope to get a second one later. You will have no power later unless you get a second job. At one point, the chair of BigCityPrivateUniversity said that, even though they would only give HusbandOfScience a soft money research professor job, I should still take their job. I said, “You are asking me to destroy my husband’s career for my own.” Of course, he was. Probably a “traditional” candidate may have done this, but we made a plan, and we stuck to it. I think we made the right choice since we are both doing better together, working as a team at home and in science.

One Solution: Apply Early, Apply Often

The two-body problem. This is a physics-term given to a wide-spread issue in science of finding two academic positions in the same geographic area. I will have a lot of information about the two-body problem, which will be tagged in various posts. This is not a woman-only problem. This is a family problem. It tears apart families, makes single moms about a leading edge scientists, and is often hard to solve. For other helpful information on this issue, see FSP.

Some good news: The awareness of this problem has increased and many universities are implementing spousal accommodation policies.

I will tell you about one solution that my husband and I came up with. I hope others will contribute their ideas as guest bloggers, too. I call this plan the “Apply Early, Apply Often” Strategy. Basically, we went on the market at each level at the same time and applied every place that was open.

Apply Early: We also went on the market early for tenure-track jobs. Our plan was to try to get interviews the first year, so we could practice interviewing. We assumed we wouldn’t get positions, and the next year we would be simultaneously on the market for tenure track and new postdocs. Many people do two postdocs, and we didn’t know if that would happen to us or not. We had a plan that included a lot of if-then decision branches. We lucked out and got jobs on our first time out, but it was not expected.

Apply Often: We sent out at least 20-25 applications each. We targeted places that had two posted openings. We each got 4-6 interviews at really great places. In the end, I got a couple offers that I was able to play off each other in order to pull my husband into a tenure-track position at the same institution as myself. This took negotiating skills, which are essential in every aspect of high-level careers – in academia or industry. There will be many posts about the importance and the how to of negotiating. More information on our solution will come in future posts!

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