Finding a job in academia is no easy endeavor. But when academics are married to other academics, finding the ideal job becomes significantly more difficult.
Couples trying to obtain faculty positions in the same institution or general location face many dilemmas in what is generally referred to as “the two-body problem.”
According to a research report done at Stanford University, more than a third of faculty have partners who are also academics, making it a very common problem to which Penn is no exception.
Among Penn’s standing faculty, 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men are partnered with another academic, according to Director of Faculty Development and Equity Programs in the Office of the Provost Lubna Mian.
“Academic careers usually require a lot of mobility in order to find the sort of job you want,” Mian said, describing one of the central reasons behind the problem.
She explained that the two-body problem is a crucial issue both in faculty recruitment and retention.
In response, Penn takes measures to address this issue. For example, Penn is a founding member of the local Higher Education Recruitment Consortium branch. HERC is a centralized database of job postings and resources that academic couples can consult in their dual career searches.
“It’s a very simple thing, but also a very effective thing,” Mian said of HERC.
In addition, the provost’s office offers salary subsidies in an effort to facilitate hiring the partner of a recruited faculty member into a different Penn school. According to Mian, this is a common hiring tactic, though she believes Penn’s subsidy is higher than at other institutions.
President Amy Gutmann also said that Penn’s location makes it easier for dual-career couples to get jobs together — if not at Penn, in the Philadelphia area.
“It really is a recruiting advantage for us,” she said. “We are now leaders in helping dual-career couples find jobs.”
Gutmann, whose husband is a faculty member at Columbia University, said that her own experience really drives home how important it is for most two-career couples to have jobs in proximity to one another.
“Michael [Doyle] and I were fortunate to have jobs in the same place for many years … and at the time I accepted the offer at Penn, our daughter was grown, and we really thought as long as we’re in easy commuting distance that would be fine for us,” she said.
But for those who are still at earlier stages of their careers as well as their lives, it is not always as straightforward.
Fourth-year doctoral candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology Deanne Francis is married to a research associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh. They only see each other once a month, but try to video-chat every day.
Francis had been accepted to the doctoral program at Pitt, but Penn was a better fit for her career goals. The couple currently plans to reunite once Francis completes her degree.
“I’ll go where he is for a postdoctoral fellowship if necessary,” she said, adding that they dream of one day running a joint lab in New Zealand, where he is from.
For linguistics professors Charles Yang and Julie Legate, Francis’ dream has been a reality for the past five years.
However, this wasn’t always the case. According to the couple, they had to live apart for a number of years, including when they had a young child.
“It really was an eight-year odyssey,” Yang said.
Before coming to Penn, Yang held a faculty position at Yale while Legate held appointments at various universities on the East Coast.
“One year we had to file tax returns in four different states,” Yang said.
Legate added that their strategy was always to “get the job first, work out the family situation later.”
While no two couples deal with their two-body problem in the same way, for some the problem is never fully resolved.
Professor of communications Elihu Katz and his wife have embraced the two-body problem throughout their lives, balancing internationally prominent careers with their joint personal lives since 1954.
Katz came alone to the Annenberg School for Communication in 1993 after retiring at the age of 67 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where his wife is professor emerita of musicology today.
“We have a history of ‘commuting,’” he said. “We have always had an agreed home base, and one of us worked elsewhere.”
Nineteen years later, he still divides his time between Philadelphia and Jerusalem, spending roughly half of the year in each location.
However, Katz added that this is his last year at Penn and plans to move back to Jerusalem. “Unless somebody offers me another job!”Comments powered by Disqus
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